The End of the Markieff Morris Saga in Phoenix Would Benefit Everyone
It looks as if the Markieff Morris saga with the Phoenix Suns could finally be nearing an end. After being the 13th overall selection of the Suns back in 2011, Morris was instantly designated to be the power forward of the future in Phoenix. However, a series of events over the last year have resulted in Morris, the organization and the fan base on different pages.
Markieff and twin brother Marcus signed "team-friendly" contracts just before the start of the 2014-15 season. From their perspective, the contracts allowed them to remain teammates. Little did anyone know that it would represent the start of a downward spiral.
The twins were constantly in the news for the wrong reasons in Phoenix. Examples included Markieff leading the NBA in technical fouls, Marcus screaming at head coach Jeff Hornacek on the bench in front of a live television audience, both twins calling out the Phoenix fan base for lack of support and, then, most significant of all, both have been charged with felony assault. Their cases are still pending in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.
None of this compromised Markieff’s future in Phoenix until this offseason when twin brother Marcus was traded to the Detroit Pistons. Both felt disrespected by the organization, and Markieff took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. As the issue festered, he went so far as to express a desire to be traded from Phoenix. As preseason camp moved forward, it appeared that the Suns and Markieff had mended fences and there was a renewed dedication from Markieff to the success of the 2015-16 season.
But when watching Morris on the court through the first month of the season, it appears that the mutual commitment no longer existed.
His -9.7 nERD -- which indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team over a full season -- is the worst on the Suns and seventh worst in the league among qualified players. His 9.8 Player Efficiency Rating is a career low. He is averaging 12.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, all of which are down from last year. He's also shooting a career worst 44.9 true shooting percentage.
The Suns are in the midst of a brutal stretch in their schedule and, prior to a thrilling victory in Chicago on Monday, had lost eight of their last nine games.
Markieff's performance on the court is consistent with the team's losing ways. At the start of this current east coast road trip for the Suns, Morris shot just 25 percent in Toronto, then 27 percent in a horrible loss at Brooklyn which saw him score just 6 points and haul in just a single rebound in 28 minutes. He sat out the game at Detroit against bother Marcus, which is the second time he has done so in both matchups with the Pistons (first an illness and next a sore back). He was moved to the bench against Washington, with Jon Leuer inserted into the starting lineup.
Morris was on the court with the game on the line in Washington and with the Suns trailing by two with eight seconds left, and he picked up a silly technical foul by repeatedly switching sides on the low block before Wizard free throw attempts.
Jeff Hornacek seems to have had enough and ultimately gave Morris his first "did not play-coaches decision" of the season when the Suns traveled to Memphis on Sunday. He followed that up with giving Morris just seven minutes of playing time in Chicago on Monday. All indications could lead to believe that his days could be numbered in Phoenix.
On the Move?
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets are a possible match to make a Morris move happen. The Rockets have had a drama filled season themselves with the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and the slow start they had.
Morris would be an interesting fit in Houston, as his ability to shoot from the outside and to stretch the floor at the four position would be useful with Dwight Howard and Clint Capela in the paint. Though Morris is just a career 32 percent shooter from three, he has the confidence to knock that shot down. In addition, despite his inconsistent rebounding would not be as obvious when playing along side of Howard or Capela in the lineup, who average 12.7 and 6.6 rebounds per game, respectively.
The Rockets aren’t strangers to Morris, as they drafted brother Marcus 12th overall in 2011, just before the Suns grabbed Markieff at 13. The Rockets then dealt Marcus to the Suns during his second year in the league.
A player being rumored to be sent to the Suns is Terrence Jones, who has been in and out of the Rockets' starting lineup this season. He has averaged 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game while registering a -2.2 nERD, which ranks 96th in the NBA but is far superior to the number for Markieff. Jones fits the mold of general manager Ryan McDonough acquisitions since joining the Suns front office. Jones played for John Calipari at Kentucky. Since becoming GM, McDonough has added or drafted Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight and Devin Booker, all of whom are currently on the Suns’ roster.
On Tuesday, New Orleans emerged as another team rumored to be in talks with the Suns for Morris according to Yahoo! Sports. The player being mentioned returning to the Suns in a deal with the Pelicans is Ryan Anderson, who has an expiring contract at the end of the season and according to Yahoo! is making $8.5 million this season.
The 27-year-old stretch-four has had an injury-filled career, playing in just 83 games the last two seasons, but has appeared in 21 games this season while starting in four of them. He has had a solid season averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and a 55.8 true shooting percentage but with the struggles the Pelicans have had this season, Anderson sports just a -2.2 nERD on the year.
With Morris being a skilled offensive player at the stretch four position, a number of teams will be vying for his services. Teams with low offensive ratings to this point this season, per our algorithms, who could use an upgrade at a stretch four are the 76ers, with a 93.9 offensive rating and currently start Robert Covington (-3.2 nERD), as well as the Wizards, who are getting little production offensively at the four from Kris Humphries and Nene Hilario. One has to think that the Pistons could be an intriguing partner to reunite the twins paired with their 22nd ranked team offensive rating.
The Suns need to make a decision sooner than later. December 15th is a day to keep an eye on as it is the first day player with new contracts can be dealt. As time passes, Markieff's trade value will likely continue to plummet. If the Suns do not receive true value trade offers, the Suns and Markieff will again have to recommit to their relationship. The question that would still remain is whether it would be too little, too late.