DENVER — The NBA Finals is a great stage for the players and coaches who deserve it, and the NBA is reluctant to step into its or her spotlight to address a less palatable topic that, frankly, in will not go anywhere in the meantime .
That’s the rationale given Thursday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for not yet having a decision on Memphis guard Ja Morant’s status for the 2023-24 season. For the second time in as many months, Morant was criticized in May for brandishing a pistol in content that hit social media.
When Silver asked several questions about the course of the Morants case and expected disciplinary action, he told reporters at his annual Finals press conference that the league’s investigation was indeed closed. A decision on what penalty Morant faces, if already imposed, has also not been announced.
“We uncovered a lot of additional information,” said the commissioner. “We probably could have taken it to the extreme now, but we made the decision and I think the Players Association agrees with us that it would be unfair to these players and these teams to announce the results in the middle of the series .” this investigation.”
Morant, 23, was spotted pointing a gun on a friend’s Instagram livestream last month. It came just two months after he was spotted holding a gun at a Colorado nightclub, sparking an investigation by police and the NBA. That too was broadcast on the social platform.
After the first incident, the NBA suspended Morant for eight games. The Grizzlies star apologized and briefly sought advice during his absence.
After the recent incident, the Memphis security guard issued a statement saying, “I know I’ve let down a lot of people who have supported me.” … I realize there’s still work to be done.” The Grizzlies suspended him “from all team activities,” a ban that is still in effect.
Silver, meanwhile, told ESPN he was “shocked” by the video, grainy as it was. Morant and his friend were in the front seat of a vehicle singing along to a rap song when Morant raised his gun on camera.
“Given that we’re obviously in the off-season,” Silver said, “he’s now been indefinitely suspended by the Memphis Grizzlies so nothing would have changed for the next few weeks anyway.” It seemed better not to do that , at least any public announcement, and I now have a feeling that shortly after the conclusion of the finals we will announce the result of this investigation.”
Morant is one of the league’s rising stars, the 2020 Kia Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star in his first four seasons. Known for his spectacular dunks and quick, elusive drives, he was a marketable player for the team and league until his recent spate of controversy.
In addition to the two firearm incidents, Morant was allegedly involved in a run-in with a mall security guard, was accused of assaulting a young man who was playing pickup basketball at Morant’s home gym, and had a verbal confrontation with members of the Indiana Pacers, who the league was investigating, and at least they found no evidence that a gun was pointed at the Indiana team bus, as initially claimed.
Based on Morant doing almost exactly the same thing again and brandishing a gun, damaging his reputation and arguably that of his team and the NBA, Silver was asked if the first suspension was too light.
“In retrospect, I don’t know. Would it have made a difference if it was a 12 game ban instead of an 8 game suspension?” Silver said. “I know it seemed… appropriate at the time. That’s all I can say. Since we’ve all seen the video and it makes it seem like he’s done it again, perhaps by definition one could say, “Maybe not.”
After the initial riot, Morant was called to New York to meet with Silver and Joe Dumars, the league’s executive vice president and head of basketball operations. The commission on Thursday repeated what he had said at the time: “He understood that it was not about his words. It should be about his future behavior.”
Most NBA insiders are anticipating a much harsher punishment that will impact how Morant and Memphis start next season. Then it will be about the future behavior of the Guard.
“I don’t think we know what it takes to change his behavior yet,” Silver told reporters. “I said the same thing at the time – he seems like a fine young man. In terms of my dealings with him, I think he clearly made some mistakes, but he’s young and I hope now that it’s not just discipline. It’s now about what we, the Players’ Association, his team and he and the people around him will do to create better conditions in the future.”
Other topics discussed
• The finals in Denver brought up an ongoing dispute between the Nuggets and NHL Avalanche network Altitude TV and cable provider Comcast. The dispute has resulted in some fans not being able to watch the teams’ television broadcasts for four years. Silver pointed to the decline of regional sports networks in general and tried to offer hope for new digital streaming technologies that would offer more options over time.
“It’s a terrible situation,” Silver said. “The league office has tried several times to mediate between the parties. … It frustrates me because I think it’s a broken economic model where there’s demand and the supply isn’t there, especially with a leading, No. 1-seeded team, a Finals-caliber team here in Denver.”
• Another investigation – into alleged use of a Twitter account called “Brenner” by veteran referee Eric Lewis to publicly raise refereeing issues in violation of league guidelines – is ongoing, Silver said. Lewis, having worked in last year’s finals, is not part of this year’s pool of judges.
• A reporter noted that if this season’s 65-game minimum was in effect next season, about a third of All-NBA selections and the Kia Defensive Player of the Year winner (Jaren Jackson Jr.) would have been disqualified would have been. The suggestion was that 65 games might be too high a bar.
Silver changed that. “If that had been in effect this season,” he said, “most of those players would actually have been eligible for those awards.” We’re incentivizing players to play more games in the regular season.”
• Monty Williams, Phoenix’s 2022 Coach of the Year before being fired earlier this spring, was signed to the Detroit Pistons this week for $78.5 for six years. It’s the biggest deal ever for an NBA coach. And as has often been noted, when a coach is paid a high salary, “there is no salary cap for coaches.”
But should it be so? If the league has a player salary cap to limit star accumulation in some luxury markets, wouldn’t a coaching salary cap keep less lucrative markets in play for the best offside as well?
Silver didn’t bite. “It’s a marketplace,” he said. “We can negotiate together with the players because they choose to negotiate as a union. The coaches didn’t make that choice. … In the coaching market we compete – our teams compete individually.”
• Before answering questions, Silver reminded everyone that this is the first time the Finals MVP award, named after Hall of Famer Bill Russell, has not been presented by the Celtics legend himself. Russell died on July 31 at the age of 88. Across the league, he was honored with the #6 patch on all players’ jerseys and his #6 was displayed on the arena floor.
“I just wanted to reiterate his passing game and his impact on the league,” Silver said.
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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.
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