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NBA PM: Morris Excited for a Fresh Start

Wizards forward Markieff Morris is excited about his change of scenery and ready to put his past behind him.

Alex Kennedy

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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.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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