NBA AM: The Case for Keeping Markieff Morris

Eric Saar breaks down the Markieff Morris situation and why the Suns’ best option is keeping the disgruntled forward.

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The Markieff Morris situation in Phoenix is pretty unique.

Markieff and his twin, Marcus, both signed four-year contract extensions to remain with the Suns exactly one year ago yesterday. They decided to sign for less money so they could remain teammates in Phoenix. Not only was this scenario unique because the twins decided to take less to stick together, but also because Suns management let them decide how they wanted to split the $52 million that they had allocated for them. It was an interesting idea and, at the end of the day, Markieff received $32 million while Marcus got $20 million. Those were considered bargain contracts at the time, especially for Markieff, and the deals look even better today compared to some of the monster contracts handed out this offseason since teams know the NBA’s salary cap will increase significantly next year.

Everything was fine until a few months ago when, in a move to clear cap room to try and sign free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Phoenix shipped off Marcus along with a couple other players in a deal with the Detroit Pistons without giving the twins any prior notice. The Morris brothers did not like that. In fact, the situation got so toxic that Markieff publicly demanded to be traded at one point this summer, which resulted in a $10,000 fine from the league. However, Markieff showed up on media day and it seems that he realizes he may have no choice but to let this situation play out.

Typically, when an NBA player demands a trade, it is a disgruntled star (think Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, etc.). Only a star that is approaching free agency has the necessary leverage to force a trade to his preferred destination. The team can’t afford to lose such a valuable asset for nothing, so if they don’t think they have a good chance to re-sign the player, they trade him.

Anthony’s 2011 trade from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks was a high-profile example of this, as he was moved while in the final year of his contract. He was an All-Star and his camp was telling teams that he wouldn’t re-sign with any team other than the Knicks, so he had a lot of trade value.

That is not the case with Morris.

Morris certainly has improved in each of his four years since being drafted by Phoenix. Here’s a look at how he has played throughout the course of his NBA career:

  • 2011-12: 19.5 MIN | 7.4 PTS | 4.4 REB
  • 2012-13: 22.2 MIN | 8.2 PTS | 4.8 REB
  • 2013-14: 26.6 MIN | 13.8 PTS | 6.0 REB
  • 2014-15: 31.5 MIN | 15.3 PTS | 6.2 REB

Over the course of his time in the NBA, Morris’ role and production have increased. However, he hasn’t even sniffed the All-Star game or reached the heights of a star like Anthony. Therefore, his trade value is much lower.

Markieff and Marcus’ trade value took a significant hit in late April when the twins were accused of felony aggravated assault for an incident at a Phoenix recreation center. The brothers pleaded not guilty and the legal proceedings are still on-going. But according to some reports, including one from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is when the Suns started to grow tired of the Morris twins’ antics.

That same August article by Pompey is when Markieff first publicly stated that he didn’t want to be with the Suns going forward, which further hurt his trade stock (as well as the Suns’ trade negotiations).

“One thing for sure, I am not going to be there,” Morris told Pompey. “If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. I don’t give a [freak]. I am not going to be there at all. That’s just what it is.

“I’ve got to show up [to training camp], no question. You can’t do that. I will be a professional. Don’t get me wrong. … But it won’t get that far. I’m going to be out before then, should be.”

That sentence – along with a tweet that stated “my future is not in Phoenix” – is what caused the league to fine Morris $10,000 for “a public statement detrimental to the NBA,” according to the league’s announcement.

All of these factors combined together make this the absolute worst time for the Suns to trade Morris. His trade value is at an all-time low, which means it’s practically impossible to get anything significant back for him or even dump him without having to part with other assets.

Additionally, and most importantly, Morris doesn’t have any leverage in this situation. Unlike someone like Anthony, who was in the final year of his contract when he demanded a trade out of Denver, Morris’ four-year extension just kicked in and he is under contract with Phoenix through the 2018-19 season. There are no player options or ways out; he is locked in through the end of his deal.

If Morris was an impending free agent and had significant trade value, this would be a much different story. Morris has neither thing going for him, which is probably why we saw him make a 180-degree turn Monday at the Suns’ media day.

“I want to be here,” Morris said during his press conference. “I’m looking forward to the season, not really trying to look at the past. I don’t really want to talk about what I did in the summer. I really want to look forward to this up-and-coming season. Glad to be back with my teammates and glad to be back with the team.”

That’s sure a different stance. In all probability, the difference in Morris’ tone was that he and the Suns collaborated behind closed doors to set aside their differences and solve the problem internally. They will work together to get Morris out on the court, at the very least making the situation seem as though it is resolved, which would increase his trade value and the possibility of a deal. Then, once he has played well and this situation is a ways behind him, they could acquiesce to his demand and deal him to another team (and potentially get something significant back in a deal, which wouldn’t be the case were they to move him now).

But again, Phoenix could just keep Morris and force him to tough it out since the power forward has no leverage. If this is Morris just trying to act professionally, but he’s still expecting to be traded, he shouldn’t get his hopes.

It makes little sense for the Suns to send him packing as of right now. His trade value is so low that Suns probably wouldn’t be able to negotiate any reasonable trade for him. Although, it should be noted that Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough has done a great job since taking over in Phoenix and his deals are practically never anticipated or leaked until they are completed. Still, he’s no miracle worker and that’s seemingly what it would take to get anything back for Morris after this brutal summer.

That’s why the best move for Phoenix is to hold onto Morris, let him play, put his legal issues behind him and, hopefully, increase his trade value. This could allow them to trade him at a later date.

Or, if the two sides can repair the fractured relationship, Morris could go back to being a key piece for the Suns and part of their long-term plan. In that scenario, perhaps Morris comes to his senses and realizes that this is a business and he didn’t need to be notified that his brother was being traded.

Also, a big factor in Morris realizing his place in the NBA and moving past this drama maturely could be the presence of newly signed big man Tyson Chandler. Chandler is a championship-winner and a strong veteran presence, which is exactly what the Suns needed to add to their locker room. He is a vocal leader on and off the court and, with 14 years in the NBA under his belt, he has a lot he could teach Morris.

Chandler already offered some advice to Morris that he shared with Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic in mid-September.

“It’s not about them,” Chandler told Coro. “That’s no offense to Ryan, the GM, or the owner. Players play for players and the coaches. You’ve got a bond. Management has nothing to do with anything that goes on when you’re on the court. That’s just my thoughts. I’m not saying this for anything against Morris either. He’s a man and he has to go through his own process. But he can be special and I know he will. I feel like all this stuff will be forgotten once we kick off and we’re having success.”

Essentially, Chandler is saying that Morris should move on, don’t worry about the things he can’t control and try to reach his full potential as a player. And Chandler does bring up one good point: this could all be brushed aside with success, as winning does cure most issues.

Morris has a lot to offer on the court. He is solid in the clutch, can shoot that mid-range shot with consistency and is tough down low. As previously noted, he has improved each year he’s been in the NBA and he’s still just 26 years old. He is an integral part of the Suns as their starting power forward, so cutting bait now and receiving little or nothing in return wouldn’t make sense.

Right now, the Suns should just hope that Morris finds peace with management and settles in with the rest of the team. This is a Phoenix squad that could make the playoffs, especially if Morris continues his development. It’s best for all involved parties to attempt to move past this and try to make the situation work for the time being.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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