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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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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision.

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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