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NBA Saturday: Morris Situation Creates Uncertainty in Phoenix

Once considered part of the Suns’ bright future, the Morris twins have created uncertainty in Phoenix.

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Morris Situation Creates Uncertainty in Phoenix

It wasn’t so long ago that the Phoenix Suns were considered a team on the rise. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough was making moves to usher Phoenix out of the Steve Nash era and into the future. For the 2013-14 season, Phoenix had a core of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Alex Len, Channing Frye and the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus).

The Suns went 48-34 that season, barely missed the postseason and were one of the surprise teams of the year, exceeding all preseason expectations. With an aggressive rebuild, a talented new head coach in Jeff Hornacek and confidence from a near playoff berth, the Suns’ future seemed bright. A big part of that bright future was the Morris twins.

Phoenix drafted Markieff 13th overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Marcus was selected with the very next pick by the Houston Rockets. Less than two years later, on February 21, 2013, the Suns acquired Marcus from the Rockets in exchange for Phoenix’s 2013 second-round draft pick.

In the Suns’ official press release, Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said that acquiring Marcus was based largely on pairing him with his twin brother Markieff.

“We have been intrigued for quite some time about the potential synergy from having both of the Morris twins on our team,” said Babby. “So we are excited to have the opportunity to welcome Marcus to the Suns.”

The Suns were under the belief that the Morris twins would play better if they were on the same team. In the early going, it seemed as though the Suns’ front office was correct. In their first full season together in Phoenix, Markieff averaged 13.8, six rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, while Marcus averaged 9.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. Both Morris twins put up some of the best numbers of their respective careers and each looked as though they would continue developing alongside one another in Phoenix.

In September of last year, the Suns signed the Morris twins to four-year contract extensions. Markieff signed for $32 million and Marcus signed for $20 million. After agreeing to the extensions, the Suns front office again spoke about the importance of having both Markieff and Marcus playing together.

“We are particularly pleased to have reached extension agreements with Marcus and Markieff before the start of training camp,” Babby said in a statement. “There is an extraordinary bond between these twin brothers; they make each other better players and better men. We take pride in their growth and look forward to their bright futures.”

McDonough shared similar sentiments regarding the agreement with the Morris twins.

“We are excited to be able to extend the contracts of Marcus and Markieff,” McDonough said. “They have had great success playing together at every level of basketball, including last season with the Suns. They have made great strides over the past year and we feel like they will continue to grow and improve. They are just entering their primes and we think they will play the best basketball of their careers over the course of the next five years.”

Unfortunately, the extensions did not work out as well the Suns had hoped.

Riding the wave of their surprising success, the Suns pursued LeBron James as a free agent last year. James ultimately signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, and the Suns ended up signing free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas. The signing of Thomas was an odd move, as the Suns already had two starting-quality point guards in Bledsoe and Dragic. Coach Hornacek managed to play both Bledsoe and Dragic together effectively and it seemed like Phoenix was going all in on their point guard experiment by adding Thomas. Unfortunately, the three-headed point guard experiment failed and Dragic forced the Suns to move him in a trade or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent after the season. Dragic and Thomas were both moved in separate trades, the Suns’ roster struggled with chemistry issues and Phoenix again missed the postseason.

In addition, the Morris twins dealt with several off-court and on-court issues. On May 7, both Markieff and Marcus pleaded not guilty to two counts each of felony aggravated assault. They are accused of helping three other people beat a man outside a Phoenix recreation center on January 24. The legal proceedings are ongoing, which leaves open the possibility that both players will miss time moving forward.

In addition, both Morris brothers, along with other Phoenix players, received a large amount of technical fouls last season. It got to the point that Coach Hornacek implemented a rule where any player who received a technical foul would sit the rest of the game. Then, on January 7, Marcus lost his temper during a timeout and berated Hornacek on national TV. Shortly after, Markieff scored 35 points in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but refused to speak to the media after the game. He later stated that he was being “childish,” and needed to be “smarter” about how he deals with the media.

On March 1, after losing to the San Antonio Spurs by 27 points, Markieff went after Suns fans for not supporting the team.

“They don’t boo but they don’t cheer much, either,” Markieff said. “I know we’re a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. We have a lot of genuine fans that cheer for us, the ones that’s in the first row, the second row, the third row. But once you go up you feel like people are just at the game watching.

“I just think we expect more from the fans. That’s basically what I’m getting to. We expect more. We expect this to be a home-court advantage every time we step on the court no matter if we’re playing Orlando or we’re playing Cleveland.”

All the positive energy and confidence earned in the 2013-14 was wiped out last season. The Suns were still a dangerous team on any given night, but it wasn’t the season Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Entering this offseason, the Suns again were aggressive, looking to acquire a big-name free agent. This time, the Suns sets their sights on LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge was being courted by several teams, but the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be his likely choice. However, the Suns made a surprising move, trading Marcus, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to Detroit in exchange for the Pistons’ 2020 second-round draft pick. The deal was a salary dump so the Suns could sign Tyson Chandler. The idea was to add Chandler as a true center, which would allow Aldridge to play at power forward – as he prefers.

The strategy almost paid off, as reports indicated that the Suns were serious contenders for Aldridge. However, Gregg Popovich met with Aldridge a second time and persuaded the All-Star power forward to join the Spurs.

One of the consequences of trading Aldridge was splitting up the Morris twins. After stating repeatedly how important it was that Markieff and Marcus play together, the Suns took the risk for the shot at landing Aldridge. Marcus called the move “a slap in the face,” and has since engaged Suns fans and critics on Twitter.

Now, the latest chapter in this ongoing saga is a report from John Gambadoro of Burns and Gambo, stating that Markieff wants out of Phoenix after his brother was traded to Detroit and that he’s refusing to talk to anyone within the Suns organization. This is not a surprising development considering how close the Morris twins are. However, it does present more challenges and uncertainty for the Suns.

As previously stated, the Morris’ ongoing legal issue leaves open the possibility that both brothers could miss significant playing time. It also brings their character into question, which other teams will take note of when considering whether to make a trade offer to the Suns for Markieff. While trading Markieff may make the most sense for both parties considering how much the relationship has already been strained, the fact is that the Suns are unlikely to receive anything close to equal value in return for the big man.

In addition, trading Markieff leaves the Suns without a proven, starting quality power forward on the roster. Furthermore, Markieff is still just 25 years old, has shown that he has a versatile, developing game and is on a very team-friendly contract (four years, $32 million). Consider that with the rising salary cap, players like Enes Kanter (four years, $70 million) and Thaddeus Young (four years, $48 million) among others received massive contracts this summer. Having young talent on cost-controlled contracts is a major asset in the NBA, and giving up one for less than equal value is a less than ideal situation. To be clear, Markieff is very talented and will draw a lot of interest from teams, but, as we recently saw with Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets, there is a strong chance that if he is traded, it will be for less than what he is worth.

It’s not clear how the Suns will handle this situation, but what is clear is that the Morris twins have created uncertainty in Phoenix and, in part, have put dimmers on the bright future the Suns once held.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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