What is going on in Phoenix?
First Goran Dragic wants out, then Isaiah Thomas, now Markieff Morris. Just yesterday, Morris went on record with Keith Pompey of The Inquirer demanding a trade out of Phoenix. He seems pretty confident he'll get one too, stating:
One thing for sure, I am not going to be there...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.
Ouch. Nothing hurts a player's trade value like a public declaration they don't want to be with their team. It forces their team's hand and they lose all leverage in negotiations. The rest of the league knows Phoenix has to trade Markieff now and they'll struggle to get anything close to a fair return.
Kieff's discontent started when Phoenix traded his brother Marcus Morris to Detroit in a salary dump, presumably to make a run at LaMarcus Aldridge. It would be some type of poetic justice if another team's failed attempt to land LMA helped Portland steal one of its best players.
Markieff Morris is now available. Should the Blazers be interested?
Given the situation, and Morris' history, this question has a number of layers, but let's start with Markieff as a player. He can be a bit of a ball-stopper on offense. Phoenix isolated him in the post and in the midrange, often allowing him to go to work. He's got a little Carmelo Anthony in him. Not so much in terms of efficiency or effectiveness but in that he likes to jab step his defender to death.
As you can imagine, this leads to some fairly difficult shots. Morris frequently takes contested fadeaways and pullups. However, he makes a decent percentage of these shots and has performed adequately in both isolations and post-up attempts. Last year, he scored 0.91 points per possession in isolations and 0.89 in the post according to stats.NBA.com. That's good for 71st percentile and the 65th percentile, respectively.
An unrepentant gunner from the post may not sound appealing but it would be wrong to reduce Morris to his worst habits. Many of these shots were the result of Phoenix putting Morris on an island and asking him to go get them a bucket. Even in the new ball-movement obsessed NBA, being able to score one-on-one should be considered an asset, not a liability. It only becomes a problem if they are incapable of making the right pass when it's available.
Markieff, for the most part, is a willing passer, especially out of the pick and roll. He's not the efficient pick and dive dunking machine like Tyson Chandler or even Ed Davis but his skillset is much more versatile. He's one of the rare big men that can shoot, drive, and pass from the perimeter. He's not particularly great at any of these (if he were then he'd be an All-Star) but plays like the one below aren't a fluke.
That's a point guard level pass right there.
Markieff had an assist percentage of 12.4% last year, good for 13th among players his height or taller, according to basketball-reference.com. That's in Greg Monroe, Pau Gasol territory. He's not an elite big man passer like Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah but he can make reads out of the pick and roll and pass on the move.
This type of versatility is becoming increasingly important in the modern NBA as teams are more willing to go small and play strange lineups to exploit weaknesses. It used to be that if you were tall and could shoot that was all you needed to be an effective player. Nowadays, teams will just matchup with a smaller, more skilled player and run you off the three point line. Markieff can post up that smaller player, attack closeouts, and then make the right pass once the defense rotates. This versatility makes him very difficult to scheme against.
Morris is built for the new NBA.
He's also an average to above-average defender. Remember all those swarming Phoenix defenses that gave Portland problems? Morris was absolutely an essential part of that. He's active, makes difficult rotations, and can step out and switch on occasions. He's not big enough to be a rim protector or a great rebounder, and he's not disciplined enough to be a disruptive force like Draymond Green. He won't anchor a defense but he won't sink it either.
Defensive stats are still lagging behind offensive ones but the advanced defensive metrics paint a similar picture. Basketball-Reference's Defensive Box Score Plus Minus rates him as an above average defender (+0.5) and ESPN's Real Plus Minus ranked him the ninth best defensive power forward last year.
His positional versatility is appealing as well. He played a decent amount of smallball center for the Suns. His twin brother, Marcus Morris, has a nearly identical body type (duh) and plays mostly small forward. Markieff is a hair bigger and a worse shooter but it's not out of the question that he could play some small forward. That may be important for Portland who is perhaps deepest at the power forward position.
But that's not something the Blazers should be all that concerned with at this stage in the rebuild. Fit and positions don't matter if you don't have the talent win anyway. Portland is solidly back in the asset collection phase and Markieff Morris is certainly an asset on the court.
If only that were all that mattered.
As far as baggage goes, Morris has to pay a fee to bring an extra suitcase on the airplane. He may even get charged for an overweight bag or two. Markieff and Marcus were both charged with felony aggravated assault last year and the court proceedings could bleed into next season. That's certainly the biggest question mark facing Markieff but the technical fouls and latest trade demand don't paint a pretty picture either.
If all of that scares you away, his contract should bring you right back. Morris signed a four year extension worth $32 million a year. Those four years will take the contract through the cap expansion, turning his salary into one of the best bargains in the league. Not only is his game tailored to take advantage of the new NBA rules, his contract is structured to take advantage of the new financial landscape.
As far as assets go, it's tough to beat that combination.
However, that assumes all the off-court issues die down and recent events are aberrations rather than an emerging trend. We don't get much insider info as fans but that seems like a reasonable gamble from my perspective. Dave's been saying for awhile that the locker room culture could absorb one questionable player and I'm inclined to agree. It's risky, but Portland should be excited about the possibility.
Ask around. Do the research. If Markieff isn't a total cancer, Portland should absolutely go after the guy.
Even with his trade demand, it will take something of value to get him. I'm sure Houston is already sniffing around, trying to upgrade their stretch four position. Boston could be looking to collect another asset just like the Blazers and Detroit might try to reunite the two brothers. Markieff is too good to get for nothing.
So what should Portland be willing to give up?
Ed Davis and Al-farouq Aminu can't be traded until December 15th (assuming I'm understanding the CBA correctly) and Morris probably won't last that long. Obviously, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Meyers Leonard are off limits. They all have too much potential to trade for anything but a slam dunk. Noah Vonleh projects to be a lot like Markieff -- a face up big with a decent post up game. However, Vonleh could be a much better rebounder, defender, and shooter and his contract makes him a more valuable asset.
After that, I would trade anyone without hesitation making Mason Plumlee and Gerald Henderson the most likely candidates. Plumlee is also on his rookie contract but he's 25 (the same age as Markieff) and I'm skeptical he'll develop into a top-shelf rim protector. If he can't do that, then he maxes out as a quality backup. Henderson is solid but on the last year of his contract and I doubt he stays with the team past this year.
Portland shouldn't be concerned with roster balance at this point and Kieff is simply more talented than either of those guys. The Blazers said they were going for best player available regardless of position or fit during free agency. They should take the same approach with trades.
Dame, CJ, Aminu, Morris, and an improved Meyers would be a really intriguing lineup. You've got two dynamic guards, plenty of shooting, and two well-rounded bigs that can shoot, drive, pass and post (assuming the best case scenario for Leonard). Defense would be a struggle but Aminu would certainly help on that end. But all of this is a bit premature.
In fact, I doubt Phoenix is interested in Henderson or Plumlee so this might be a non-starter. There's no way Olshey throws in a first round pick and second rounders won't get it done. Portland has collected a number of assets to go after a big fish but the cupboard is bare when considering mid-tier targets. The Blazers' trade chips are either too valuable or not valuable enough.
As a result, I'm skeptical this deal happens but it's a good example of how Portland should be positioning itself. Opportunities like this will come up again and the Blazers need to continue to collect a wide variety of assets in preparation.