Surprised by the Wizards pulling off an 11th-hour trade for Markieff Morris? The Wizards had been discussing a potential deal with the Phoenix Suns leading up to Thursday's deadline and were able to execute it in the last hour.
The NBA still has to approve the transaction and Morris, a 6-10 power forward with stretch capability despite shooting less than 30% from three-point range this season. The Suns received Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a protected top 9 first-round 2016 draft pick:
Why Morris and why now?
He can play multiple frontcourt positions, from 3-5, which gives the Wizards versatility behind Marcin Gortat and Nene. That's something they didn't have with the departing players or Drew Gooden. And unlike Ryan Anderson, a hot topic because of his ability to stretch the floor to the three-point line, Morris is under contract for the next two years (2019 is non-guaranteed) and has the versatility edge. If they were going to give up a pick, they needed certainty. They also needed cost control because when the salary cap explodes from $70 million to about $89 million this summer, players like Morris and Anderson will cost a lot more than $8 million per year and that would handicap them from making other moves.
What does Morris bring on the court?
The Wizards have been a soft team all season, particularly on the inside. Coach Randy Wittman has said it. So have players. Morris, despite his penchant for stepping over the line at times, has the type of attitude on the court that they want. In the words of president Ernie Grunfeld, "I think this team needed a jolt."
Will Morris start?
That's up to Wittman, but the expectation is yes. He's a starter. Jared Dudley would be the backup.
Will Morris be a problem in the locker room?
The expectation, of course, is that he won't be. The Wizards can't talk to a player directly before the trade though they have since then. They consulted ex-teammates (Marcin Gortat, Dudley), former coaches and college coaches, etc. The conclusion was he just needed a change of scenery. He was upset about his brother, Marcus, being traded by the Suns to the Detroit Pistons (and the fact that he took a salary cut to stay to play with his brother). His antics this year -- throwing a towel in the face of then-coach Jeff Hornacek and grabbing a teammate during a timeout, numerous fines and a two-game suspension -- are believed to be an aberration. He was not a problem for Phoenix before then. Marcus has been fine with the Detroit Pistons and the belief is that Markieff will be with Washington, too. A strong locker room should be able to handle one player who can be unruly. It's just not a good idea to have multiple players who fit that mold.
Why were Humphries and Blair the players who had to go?
First, neither fit the scheme anymore. Rather than go to Blair at center, Wittman opted to go with small lineups that featured Dudley and Otto Porter at center as well as Gooden. Humphries didn't show the ability to adjust to the new pace-and-space system. Plus, both of their salaries made the deal work because in the NBA salaries have to be a close enough match to facilitate a deal. The Wizards are over the salary cap but under the luxury tax so they had to make this deal match almost dollar for dollar.
When will Morris play?
He's on his way to D.C. and should be here Friday morning and could be available to play vs. the Pistons at Verizon Center. All players have to pass their physicals for the trade to be official. That happened late Thursday night.
Any concerns with giving up a first-round pick?
Allowing picks to walk is always something to think twice about. It's top 9 protected, so the rationale to consider is this: Will a better player than Morris, who'll likely be 20 years old tops, be available in the June draft? That's not likely, especially if the Wizards make the playoffs, because the pick would come outside the lottery. So you're looking at a low-teens to early-to-mid 20s pick. The Wizards already have some young pieces to develop (Kelly Oubre and Aaron White). Because Morris is proven, averaging double figures for three consecutive seasons including 15.3 last year, he was too tempting to pass up. Good teams aren't loaded with young players. Lottery teams are.
Is the Disabled Player Exception still in play?
Yes. The Wizards moved two players to get back one, which puts them at 14 of the maximum 15 roster spots filled. They have until March 10 to act on the DPE, which means they can wait for players who are currently getting bought out of their deals to hit the open market. Exactly what kind of player they'd be looking for is too early to tell. It could depend on the health of the team. But as I reported yesterday, they have up to $2.8 million of the slot (created when the NBA granted them the waiver by cutting Martell Webster, half of his salary) to bring in one more player. However, the Wizards are an over-salary-cap but under-the-tax team. Before the Morris trade, they had about $2.4 million to offer under the DPE to stay out of the tax. With the Morris deal, that has been reduced to just above $1 million. They still have the advantage because they can offer the full amount, not the pro-rated amount of the veteran minimum that other teams will use.
What did this move have to do with future, such as the free-agent summer of 2016 and Kevin Durant?
That factored into this deal. It keeps the Wizards in play for Durant but it also gives them a core to build around. Of the six players the Wizards will have under contract -- Morris, Gortat, John Wall, Porter, Oubre and Bradley Beal -- five of them are starters. The rest of the roster spots will come open as contracts expire or the Wizards decline team options (Yes, the plan on keeping Beal though he's technically not under contract beyond this season). If luring big-name free agents doesn't work, this makes going to Plan B a lot easier to transition to because better pieces are in place.