Morris Excited for Fresh Start
One of the most surprising moves to happen before the NBA’s trade deadline last Thursday was the Washington Wizards dealing acquiring Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a 2016 first-round pick.
Most people around the league believed that Phoenix would dump Morris – who had three years and $24 million remaining on his contract – rather than get significant assets back for him considering his issues on and off the court over the past year. However, Phoenix received two expiring contracts and a first-round pick that is only top-nine protected, which is a great deal for the Suns.
For Washington, this move is about righting their season. The Wizards are currently 25-29, putting them three and a half games outside of the playoff picture and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Washington battled injuries earlier this season and they’re hoping that the combination of getting healthy and adding a difference maker in Morris will allow them to turn things around. The Wizards had a number of trade talks before the deadline – they also pursued New Orleans Pelicans stretch-four Ryan Anderson – but they ultimately decided to pull the trigger on the Suns deal.
Now, they need the 26-year-old to put all of his problems behind him and play to his full potential again. Fortunately for the Wizards, Morris was playing some of his best basketball just before the trade, averaging 20.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and one steal in the month of February. Morris seems excited about the change of scenery and wants to make the most of his new opportunity in Washington.
“I think this is great,” Morris told reporters in Washington. “I had a good few years in Phoenix; I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me. My past is my past. I’m happy for a fresh start and I’m happy to be in Washington. … I think I fit in well; they need another four man to step in and contribute like I can. I can play fast-paced, like I have been in Phoenix the past few years. I’m just ready and excited.”
In his first two games with Washington, Morris came off of the bench and played sparingly – making it clear that the team is easing him into the rotation. General manager Ernie Grunfeld referred to Morris as “a proven starter” after the Wizards acquired him, but it remains to be seen if head coach Randy Wittman is going to move him into the starting lineup at some point. Morris has said all of the right things so far, stating that he is fine with Wittman’s decision either way.
“I’m ready for whatever role the team gives me, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench,” Morris told reporters. “I just want to fit in and get better every day.”
Wizards forward Jared Dudley, who played with Morris on the Suns, confidently backed the big man and stated that the change of scenery will be good for him.
“I had Markieff during his rookie year; he’s a good kid,” Dudley told reporters. “When I was there, he had no problems. He had one problem this year when he had the situation where he felt disrespected, felt betrayed. I’m not going to defend him. Some of the stuff he did was unprofessional, but that being said, I guarantee you we’ll have no problems with him here. He is a good friend of mine. I usually hang out with him in the summer time. It’s easy for me to mentor him. He’s a good kid. His mom lives 35-45 minutes away from here. He’s excited about coming here.
“He’s a starting power forward [who] is very effective from 17-to-18 feet. He’s got a quick bounce where a lot of those drops off from John Wall will be dunks. He does have some flaws where he needs to work on his rebounding and defense, but he’s young. He has a good salary for this team moving forward and he’s someone we need. We need another body, another athlete. From the time he gets here, he’s going to be motivated to show people he’s not that player. He’s got a fresh start.”
Marcin Gortat, who also played with Morris in Phoenix, made similar comments about the big man. Morris appreciated that his former teammates defended him and backed the move.
“They’re guys that actually know me and not just the outside-looking-in guys,” Morris said. “These are guys I’ve actually played with and been in the locker room with. Things happen and it’s in my past – all I can do is move forward and learn from it. I’m happy to be here and getting compliments from those guys means a lot. We’re all good friends, we keep in touch, and they just know me as a person… It’s definitely a great feeling. I played with both of those guys for two and a half years. It makes it an easier transition for me to come in already knowing a few players.”
Other members of the Wizards seem happy about the acquisition as well.
“I like it. I like it a lot,” Bradley Beal told reporters. “I think he’s a physical presence and he’s a guy who can space the floor at the same time. He’s somebody who always has his teammates’ back at the end of the day. He’s always somebody who every night [will] go to war with you, so I’m excited to have him here. I know he’s going to do exceptionally well for us.”
“I think it’s good, another stretch-four for us,” Wall told reporters. “I think it helps us out. [He’s] a post-up guy, he can rebound the ball, he can finish in the paint, he can make plays for us. He’ll give us depth at that position, in our starting lineup or coming off the bench.”
“I think it’s a good situation for us,” Wittman told reporters. “Gives us another guy that can stretch [the floor] a little bit. He’s a tough guy that can rebound the ball – we’ve talked about getting better there. He’s shown what he can do in this league and, in talking to the people that I talked to, I got nothing but rave reviews that he would be a good piece for us. I talked to a lot of people I have great respect for, that were very close to him at Phoenix. … He’s going to be fine; he’s an intelligent player, good basketball IQ, good size. We can do some different things with him from a defensive standpoint that we haven’t had the luxury to do, so I see a lot of good things.”
Everyone involved understands that it will take time for Morris get acclimated since changing teams for the first time – especially in the middle of a season – can be a difficult adjustment.
“We have to get him comfortable; that’s the main thing,” Wittman said. “I don’t want him out there thinking about where he needs to be or where he’s supposed to be right now. We haven’t had a practice with him yet. I told him, ‘Be out there and be yourself. We’ll help you and guide you through the rest of it; don’t worry about being in the wrong spot. Just go out there and be yourself.’ … He’s a multidimensional guy that will definitely help us.”
“Right now, Markieff doesn’t know plays so you got to wait,” Dudley added. “Once we get a couple of practices in and he learns the system and where his spots are, [he’ll play well.] Right now, he’s just freestyling. Once he gets it right, he’s probably going to be one of our best low-post scorers – him and Nene. He’s automatic from 17-footers, and I just think that he’s a better passer than given credit for. He’ll have to work on his defensive rebounding – that’s been his Achilles’ heel since he’s been in the league. For us, it’s another big body. You’re going to see him attacking the basket, which we haven’t had. That’s why you made the trade for [him]. Right now, it’s just tough because we’re playing on the fly. I think right now [he’s] just playing on talent and skill. You’re trying to help not only him, but every teammate while you’re out there. Right now, it’s just learning the flow, system and where he’s going to be at in his spots.”
There will certainly be an adjustment period for everyone in Washington, but the Wizards are hoping Morris can contribute sooner than later so they can go on a run that allows them to climb the East standings. Morris is a high-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Wizards and it’ll be interesting to see how the move pans out for the organization.
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