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Should He Stay Or Should He Go? The Issue With Trading Markieff Morris
The Phoenix Suns have a dilemma on their hands. Markieff Morris, one of their best players might want out, but trading him could have major consequences for their playoff hopes. However not trading him could also turn out to be disasterous. Of course they should have seen this coming after trading his twin brother, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons in a cap clearing move. But Markieff was their second leading scorer and one of the few starters to play all 82 games this season. On top of that according to Basketball Reference, Morris was featured in the 10 best 5-man lineups the Suns played this season. His combination of post play and outside shooting make him a threat when paired up with the dynamic perimeter play of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. I can’t reiterate this enough, Markieff is a really good power forward. His ability to shoot from the outside, post up, and put the ball on the floor is rare in a player with his size. He’s not a good defender and can be a bit of a ball hog at time, but at the end of the day, he is a net positive for a team. Heck, there were times when he looked like the best player in a Suns uniform (no disrespect to Eric Bledsoe). And lets not forget he did this to Cleveland:
He’s also the only playmaker on the team that isn’t a guard. Keef’s ability to operate on the low block and at the elbows is a dimension no other player currently on the roster has the ability to do. Finding another player to replace or replicate at least a lesser version of what Morris does would be difficult. He’s sort of like a taller, Draymond Green that doesn’t look to pass often on offence (he’s nowhere near Draymond on defense). That type of forward is incredibly valuable on a pick and roll oriented team such as Phoenix. The fact that he can make reads out of the post and as the roll man in the pick and roll is a skill that not a ton of bigs in the NBA have. On top of all that, he was third on the team in value over replacement player, second of players on the current roster in PER, second in scoring, third in rebounding, and he only costs the team $8 million next season. If the front office does trade him they need to be absolutely certain that he’s going to be a locker room problem next season because for his talents he is a bargain at that price.
However Markieff is also a bit of a headcase, facing assault charges in Phoenix as well as earning a team leading 15 technical fouls. In theory with his brother gone he could potentially become a distraction, his brother already hinting that Markieff refuses to play for Phoenix. Markieff himself confirming that he would not be playing for the Suns next year by way of Sports Illustrated. Regardless of what decision the front office makes, this is going to be gamble for the team that could wind up defining the team next season. If Markieff goes to another team and plays well, a trade could look like a mistake in hindsight. However it would be infinitely worse if Ryan McDonough kept Morris and he creates a problem for them off the court. Trading Markieff might wind up being the most attractive option in spite of his ability due to the potential locker room problems he could create.
Moving Keef clears up some room for TJ Warren, who can play some power forward as well as Mirza Teletovic, a superior shooter. However neither has his post game or ability to put the ball on the deck and make plays the way Morris is able to. That being said Warren has demonstrated a fantastic ability to score the ball, but he’s not a great rebounder or passer. Teletovic is a better three point shooter than Morris and Warren (36% for his career), but he’s also not much of a rebounder or passer. The hope would be that TJ Warren would be able to grow into his own as a player and become a forward who can operate in the post and make plays from the elbows. But that’s not a guarantee since Warren scores mostly off of smart cuts and spot up opportunities. Teletovic definitely isn’t going to be able to replicate the type of playmaking that Morris brought to the table. That’s not to say neither of Warren or Teletovic will bring valuable skills to the lineup. Neither are players that really need the ball in their hands a whole lot and on a team that features playmakers like Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have two forwards who can work off of the space Bledsoe/Knight drives will create. However replacing Morris with them makes the team slightly more one dimensional and it’s difficult to win games against good teams if you really only have two playmakers. The team stands to lose a very skilled player should they trade Morris; but if the guy wants to be traded, then the front office may not have a choice, it’s as simple as that.
Well not actually that simple. As good as Keef is, the Suns are unlikely to be able to find a trade with an equal return value. At this time Morris has already stated he doesn’t expect to be back next year, and other teams around the league know that at this point the Suns have to trade him. That combined with his dubious reputation of being one of the league leaders in technicals may make it difficult to find a way for the team to find another team willing to take him on. Sacramento is one team that comes to mind, but it’s doubtful (I think….) that they would be willing to trade for Keef when they already have Demarcus Cousins. To be fair Cousins has actually made pretty big strides in terms of his maturity, but do you really want Morris, Cousins, Rondo, and George Karl on the same team? I mean really, think about it for a few seconds and if you’re still considering it thank you Vivek Ranadive for taking time to read this post. But in all seriousness that combination could be potentially explosive. Although on paper Keef could be a great match with Cousins due to his ability to space the floor, having two guys who argue with refs constantly usually isn't a recipe for success.
Allegedly Morris wants to be traded to the Houston Rockets or Toronto Raptors. Houston would actually be a great fit for Markieff given the team has been looking for a stretch four, except the Rockets already have two power forwards on the roster. Terrence Jones is a versatile forward and a capable rebounder/defender at his position. Donatas Motiejunas has proven to be an excellent post up power forward who can also hit the outside jumper. In order to make a trade for Markieff, the Daryl Morey would probably have to give up one of Motiejunas or Jones. Given their familiarity with the Rockets’ system as well as their superior three point shooting (Motiejunas 36%, Jones 35%) it might make more sense to keep their forwards. Neither player has the off court issues Morris has had recently (they also both have considerably less technical fouls than Markieff). Of course Toronto might be more interested in acquiring Morris, since the most proven power forwards on the roster would be Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson. If the Raptors want to take a step up in the Eastern Conference, power forward might be a spot Masai Ujiri might want to upgrade. But the Raptors did sign Demarre Carroll this offseason and plan on playing him at the power forward spot in an effort to catch up with the small ball revolution. Now Markieff Morris can play some center, but then you can kiss rim protection goodbye. Yeah the Golden State Warriors just won a title without playing a rim protector major minutes, but they were equipped with rangy perimeter defenders that could switch everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. Toronto is not equipped with those types of defenders (their best one is Terrence Ross and he seems to be in and out of the line up, the other good defender would be Carroll) they need their rim protector Jonas Valanciunas on the floor. That being said trading for Morris could force Ujiri to deal away Ross or Valanciunas. Knowing Ujiri he might do the deal if he thinks there could be a huge reward (al Javale McGee in 2012). However the assault charges and the public way in which Morris’ falling out with the Phoenix management may cause Ujiri to run away.
Although those are the two teams Morris has publicly stated he wants to go to, but really the report seems to indicate he just wants to get the heck out of Phoenix. At this point I think he’d accept a trade to the 76er’s (he might like it, he’s from Philadelphia). But given everything that’s going on with Morris it might be hard for the Suns to find someone willing to take him on without having to give up major assets (i.e draft picks). But it might be worth it to the Suns to trade Morris even if they have to give up a couple of assets. Again he could prove to be a distraction and has had problems with head coach Jeff Hornacek, as well as GM Ryan McDonough. Therefore it stands to reason Morris will probably be dealt before the season starts. Markieff is gifted enough that someone is bound to take him on even with his problems off and on the court. The Suns won’t gain anything from the trade, and have to hope Markieff leaving the team will somehow be addition by subtraction. If Warren and Teletovic can replicate Morris’ production the team could come out okay (Warren needed minutes this year anyway). Trading Morris without giving up draft picks would be ideal, but if I were a rival GM I would definitely at least try to get a couple of picks out of them. In theory the Suns could be a better team without Morris on the floor, but that all depends on the fit of Teletovic and Warren. We also have no idea if Morris has his his ceiling as an above average/average NBA power forward. He could also completely burst into flames in the aftermath of his brother’s trade. We don’t know and it will be fascinating to watch.