And here we go.
The Toronto Raptors are showing interest in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN. This comes on the heels of his report that the Raptors are also interested in P.J. Tucker, and Stein calls it a virtual “lock” that the Suns make “at least one deal” by the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
A potential Morris deal is something we’ve talked about around here plenty, and it brings a host of questions with it.
Let’s start here: The framework would most likely be Patrick Patterson and a pick for Morris. If you’re not of the mind Morris is a certain upgrade on Patterson, this rumor probably isn’t for you. The Raptors’ salary structure is such that it’s really difficult to find a fair, workable deal without Patterson, and the Suns likely want more than to just be out of Morris’ contract, given the lip service interim head coach Earl Watson has paid to nurturing Morris and making him the offensive focal point.
That could just be lip service, of course, but it’s also a good way to re-establish a player’s trade value and a worthwhile evaluatory endeavor given that the Suns don’t have to give up on the very reasonable three years and $24 million left on his deal. They’re going to want an asset beyond one year of Patterson, and I’m not sure a Luis Scola-James Johnson-Delon Wright package is enough without a pick on top, either. In any case, the Raptors are almost surely surrendering a piece of their nine-man rotation and a pick, unless Ujiri has some magic brewing.
From there, the question falls on Morris’ perceived character issues. Not only has Morris grown irritable and pouty in the desert, but he and brother Marcus have pending assault charges, which is kind of a big deal. The fact that Morris has been openly critical of his organization following the trade of his brother, and was in the doghouse so deep that he received DNP-CDs despite being one of the team’s best players, is an obvious concern. He’s not exactly Bismack Biyombo when it comes to affability.
In terms of the impact on the locker room, my bet would be that Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey believe they’ve created a strong enough organizational culture to be able to bring in a divisive talent without much issue. Morris is pals with DeMar DeRozan and former perceived malcontent Kyle Lowry. It’s a risk, but the Raptors have put such a high value on employing quality people that they’ve pre-insulated themselves for such a move. That may allow them to get a depreciated asset at a discount relative to what talent would dictate. Organizational culture is important for a lot of reasons, and taking advantage of a market inefficiency for players who don’t fit everywhere could very well be one of them in this case.
(Note: The first version of this story included a note about the Casey-Morris-Kentucky connection, which doesn’t exist because the Morrii went to Kansas. This is why you don’t write at a Tim’s immediately after giving blood.)
On talent, Morris would be a big addition. He’s a big, tough power forward who rebounds well and can be an above-average, if foul-prone defender when fully engaged. He doesn’t have the 3-point stroke of Patterson, standing as a 32.4-percent career outside shooter, but he brings far more to the table offensively otherwise. He can act as the screener in the pick-and-roll, work dribble hand-offs, and create for himself in one-on-one situations. Morris’ numbers are depressed in a bad season and his efficiency and shot-selection have waned, but he has a really nice face-up game and can bully opposing fours on the block. He’s also a smart passer from the elbows, the block, or off the cut, an important consideration that could help keep the Raptors’ offense flowing through a third piece.
On the season, Morris is averaging 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 39.8 percent from the floor. There’s a good argument to be made that as a third option on the Raptors and with a fresh start in a winning situation, Morris could be much better.
I’d imagine the response to this rumor will be polarized. Some won’t want to mess with chemistry, while others will see the talent upgrade as a must-do. I’m leaning more toward the latter side even though I was on the former side earlier in the year. If this were the offseason, I’d be on board with this deal for sure, with little worry about the locker room with so much time for everyone to build a chemistry. I’m of the mind that you maximize talent and figure everything else out later. That’s riskier mid-season, but there are basketball and economic reasons behind Ujiri building such a strong culture, and this is exactly the kind of situation where he can leverage that intangible advantage.
The Raptors could have a chance to get a talented player on a good contract with lots of control for a solid player and a surplus asset they probably won’t have much use for come draft time. I’d understand either side of the argument, but leaving talent on the table is tough, especially if there’s a way to get the Suns to come off a first-round pick asking price.
(By the way, there are frameworks in which the Raptors could land Morris and Tucker, if you really want to take a swing. Patterson, Johnson, a prospect, and a pick works for the cap but it probably has to be the Knicks/Nuggets pick for the Suns to depart with both.)