Which NBA Teams Could Use a Disgruntled Markieff Morris?
The relationship between the two has been strained since the Suns traded Markieff's twin brother, Marcus Morris, to the Pistons in early July. While the tension has been well documented and out in the open for some time now, it officially got weird this week.
First, the Suns tweeted out a happy birthday message to Markieff on Wednesday:
— #NashROH (@Suns) September 2, 2015
This type of cheesy social media message from a team to a player on the day of his birth is fairly common, but the subtext in this case is absolutely cringe-worthy.
Even beyond the hilarious irony of the team's official Twitter account posting a picture of an openly disgruntled player in a party hat, is the fact that the picture serves as a reminder that his twin brother -- who naturally has the same birthday -- is no longer in the picture (both figuratively and literally).
Markieff turned down the Suns' gesture on Thursday by reminding the general public that he wants nothing to do with the team, regardless of how well its birthday wishes were:
— Keef Morris (@Keefmorris) September 4, 2015
This whole #FOE (Family Over Everything) tirade -- while admirable in principal -- has the potential to ruin Markieff's career, especially if he refuses to participate in team activities and thus fails to honor the contract he signed. The idea of the twins playing together forever was great from a warm-and-fuzzy perspective, but the reality of a business-oriented NBA is that no team was ever going to truly treat them like one singular asset, never to be separated.
The Suns have Morris under team control for the next four seasons at $8 million per campaign, which is going to look like an absolute steal of a contract once the salary cap goes nova next year (if he plays at a regular effort level, of course). Apart from potentially avoiding the pouting of a grown man, Phoenix has next to no incentive to sell low on a talented 26-year-old on such a team-friendly contract. Kudos to them for sticking to their guns about not honoring his trade demands, at least to this point.
But let's say the locker room distraction that Markieff's malcontent is bound to cause forces Phoenix's hand and they concede to ship him out. His reputation as a pain in the butt is growing, but there might be teams that can bite the bullet on that for the sake of an upgrade at power forward.
The question is, for which teams does Morris even constitute an upgrade at the four?
In 2014-15, he put up the best raw averages of his four-year career, while playing and starting in all 82 of the Suns' regular season games. In 31.5 minutes per contest, he averaged 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.5 blocks, with a shooting split of 46.5% from the floor, 31.8% from long range, and 76.3% from the free throw line.
Those seem like pretty solid numbers at first glance, but the relatively mediocre efficiency rates took the shine off his advanced stat line. His 15.8 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), .085 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48), and -0.2 Box Plus/Minus (BPM) were decidedly middle-of-the-road among power forwards. In fact, those numbers make him look darn near replaceable. To wit, his nERD of -1.8 ranked him 376th out of the 492 eligible players in the whole league last year.
If you're not familiar with our in-house metric, nERD, it combines several offensive, defensive, and usage factors to produce one number that is meant to project a player's overall value to his team. That final number is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win over an 82-game season with the player in question as one of its starters. It's comparable to Win Shares, but is meant to be predictive (projecting an 82-game season) as opposed to descriptive (how many wins the player has contributed to his team in the past).
Here are the projected starting forwards for all 30 NBA teams next season (according to ESPN's projected depth charts), ranked by last year's nERD:
|1||New Orleans Pelicans||Anthony Davis||19.1|
|2||Chicago Bulls||Pau Gasol||9.4|
|3||Utah Jazz||Derrick Favors||7.8|
|4||Los Angeles Clippers||Blake Griffin||7.5|
|5||Golden State Warriors||Draymond Green||7.4|
|6||Cleveland Cavaliers||Kevin Love||7.3|
|7||Atlanta Hawks||Paul Millsap||7.1|
|8||San Antonio Spurs||LaMarcus Aldridge||6.5|
|9||Dallas Mavericks||Dirk Notwitzki||5.3|
|10||Portland Trail Blazers||Ed Davis||5.0|
|11||Memphis Grizzlies||Zach Randolph||4.4|
|12||Toronto Raptors||Patrick Patterson||3.5|
|13||Detroit Pistons||Ersan Ilyasova||3.1|
|14||Los Angeles Lakers||Brandon Bass||2.8|
|15||Boston Celtics||David Lee||2.7|
|16||Denver Nuggets||Kenneth Faried||2.7|
|17||Houston Rockets||Terrence Jones||2.5|
|18||Oklahoma City Thunder||Serge Ibaka||2.4|
|19||Charlotte Hornets||Cody Zeller||1.6|
|20||Sacramento Kings||Kosta Koufos||1.2|
|21||Miami Heat||Chris Bosh||1.0|
|22||Minnesota Timberwolves||Kevin Garnett||0.0|
|23||Milwaukee Bucks||Jabari Parker||-0.4|
|25||Philadelphia 76ers||Nerlens Noel||-1.4|
|26||New York Knicks||Derrick Williams||-1.7|
|27||Phoenix Suns||Markieff Morris||-1.8|
|28||Orlando Magic||Channing Frye||-3.5|
|29||Indiana Pacers||Jordan Hill||-3.8|
|30||Brooklyn Nets||Thaddeus Young||-4.3|
By our metric, there are only three teams in the whole NBA that would improve their situation at the four by trading for Markieff. Of those three, Orlando is probably ready to give those minutes to Summer League star Aaron Gordon, while Indiana and Brooklyn just threw new contracts at Jordan Hill and Thaddeus Young, respectively, to fill that role.
Young's deal was for four years, which all but counts Brooklyn out as a suitor. Hill's was only for one year, so that could open them up, but there don't appear to be any rumblings of interest in Markieff out of Indiana.
He's expressed interest in playing for Houston or Toronto, but Terrence Jones (nERD of 2.5) and Patrick Patterson (nERD of 3.5) are perfectly serviceable starting power forwards for those teams with comparable upside to Morris and none of the accompanying headache.
The only other option would be a team trading for him to serve in a backup role. Seeing as how Markieff hasn't exactly come off as the flexible type during this saga, one can't help but think that a move like that wouldn't result in anything more harmonious.
How's that for a rock and a hard place?
It's hard to tell how either side could come out a winner in this situation. Phoenix has to choose between trading their talented albeit inefficient young big man and his incredibly affordable contract at his lowest possible value and keeping a guy around who has absolutely no interest in playing for them. Morris has to accept playing on a team he openly hates or likely accept a reduced role on some other team.
However this madness ends, it likely won't be pretty, so good luck to everyone involved. Oh, and happy belated birthday, 'Kieff.