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Ja Morant Has Everything. He Could Lose It All.

The Grizzlies can’t continue to overlook issues with their star point guard, whose off-the-court actions are jeopardizing his future.

Ja Morant is a man with everything.

He is headed down a path that could leave him with nothing.

Here’s what Morant has: a $200-plus million NBA contract and endorsement deals with Nike and Powerade potentially worth hundreds of millions more. He’s the star of an up-and-coming franchise eager to build everything around him. If you made a short list of 20-somethings who could eventually become the face of the NBA, Morant—at 23—would be on it.

Here's what Morant is doing: 

  • Riding in an SUV that trained a laser at the Pacers team bus, per The Athletic—a laser at least one Indiana employee believed to be attached to a gun. 
  • Reportedly ummeling a teenager at a basketball game at his house, per The Washington Post—and flashing a gun after. 
  • And, early Saturday morning, Morant was on Instagram Live—his own Instagram Live—brandishing a firearm at a nightclub.

An NBA spokesman tells Sports Illustrated the league is aware of the incident and is investigating. On Saturday, the Grizzlies announced Morant will be away from the team for at least the next two games.

This is bad. Really bad. In recent days, people close to Morant have spent considerable time attacking the reporting around him. Morant’s lawyer, S. Keenan Carter, called a tweet from the Washington Post reporter “a blatant lie.” Morant’s agent, Jim Tanner, called the Post’s reporting “irresponsible and defamatory.” He declared it “unsubstantiated rumors and gossip.” Added Tanner, “Every allegation involving a firearm has been fully investigated and could not be corroborated.”

This one can be. It’s unclear where Morant was during the video. The Grizzlies played in Denver on Friday and are scheduled to play in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Sunday. What’s clear is that at one point a shirtless Morant raised what appeared to be a pistol in the air. Even in a dimly lit room, the image is irrefutable.

The Grizzlies know. It’s why they are sitting Morant down. Believe me: Memphis didn’t want to. Every public statement the Grizz have made recently has been wishy-washy. The incident with the laser? “Addressed internally,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. The Post report? After declining to comment, Jenkins said he would make sure Morant “knows he is cared for going forward.” Even the wording in announcing Morant’s de facto suspension—"away from the team”—was careful. The Grizzlies are operating like a small-market team desperate not to alienate a big-time star.

This incident, though, can’t be overlooked. By the Grizzlies, who need to address obvious issues with its franchise player. By the NBA, which can’t just shrug its shoulders. 

In 2010, the NBA issued lengthy suspensions to Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for bringing guns into the Wizards’ locker room. Morant’s situation is different—the Washington situation involved bringing weapons into the workplace—but in the aftermath of the Post report and the video, it’s something the league needs to address. Or at least make sure Memphis does.

Most importantly, by Morant. There are reasons to appreciate Morant, from his charitable work to his interactions with fans. Many have blamed Morant’s recent actions on the people around him. “I’d tell him to distance himself from people that don’t have the same vision,” Stephen Jackson said on Showtime. Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe said Morant is “hustling backwards” and “portrays to be something that he’s not.” There’s a narrative forming that Morant’s problems will be resolved if he exiles some of the people around him.

Maybe. But this is on Morant. His life. His choices. His future. On the court Morant has a Hall of Fame trajectory. He’s a billion-dollar athlete in waiting with a chance to win championships for years to come. His fiercest opponent right now isn’t Denver or Los Angeles, Boston or Milwaukee. It’s him.

On Saturday, Morant released a statement acknowledging a problem.

“I take full responsibility for my actions last night,” said Morant. “I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”

It's a first step. Morant is an athlete who can have everything. Or a cautionary tale that’s left with nothing.