The Portland Trail Blazers added Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas to their bench lineup during the Summer of 2018, but few believe those moves alone will be enough to push the franchise into contention. Tantalizing possibilities loom as the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline approaches. Under certain conditions, the Blazers could become players. One potentially good trade is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
I’m probably drinking the early season cool aid, but I’m thinking the “playoff veteran” would sure look good on the Blazers right now. That guy who can hit a big shot if he’s left open, and can give a couple hard fouls if someone on the other side is going off.
If Wizards are blowing things up, give me Markieff Morris for that role. Thoughts? Any other targets in that vein for you?
It’d certainly be interesting. Morris is 29 and 6’10”, both of which fit the Portland profile. He’s been durable and eats 26-30 minutes per game. He’s used to being a starter in Washington, but he might be able to adjust for Portland. If he’s tired of playing for the contentious, going-nowhere Wizards, the Blazers could translate his talent into impact.
Let’s not over-sell the experience factor, though. Morris has veteran regular-season experience. He’s only been to the playoffs twice in his career, playing 19 games total. He’s not a Jason Kidd Guru who would suddenly whip this team into shape. He’d be steady and helpful, not revolutionary.
Morris’ three-point shooting is a mixed bag. He has improved dramatically over the last two seasons, hitting at a 35.4% clip this year. That’s adequate, roughly the same as Al-Farouq Aminu. He’s also attempting far more three-pointers as a percentage of his total shots; 43.6% of his looks come from beyond the arc this season. Normally I get itchy when I see a player start to focus heavily on threes when their three-point percentage is only average, but Aminu attempts a whopping 57% of his shots from distance. For Portland, Morris’ shot selection would not be a concern.
Morris’ overall field goal percentage is good...far better than Aminu’s. He’s a threat from any range. That’d bring a new wrinkle to Portland’s power forward position. Whether they’d be interested in taking advantage of it is up to debate. They’ve gone away from the mid-range game that helps distinguish Morris from his peers.
Defense is where this move falls off the rails. The Blazers like their bigs to defend. They have a couple ringers in Aminu and Zach Collins. Jusuf Nurkic is capable under the right circumstances. Morris might won’t climb above the Nurkic line, especially if opponents pull him out to the perimeter. There’s a real chance that Portland’s defense would disintegrate if Morris were paired with anybody but Collins. How much mileage can the Blazers get out of that pairing, though?
Morris is on the last year of his contract, making $8.6 million. This tantalizes even if he’s not an exact fit. There’s no way the Blazers would bring him on as a long-term solution unless they’re going to dump a ton of other salary this summer. He doesn’t match well enough and won’t make a big enough impact to justify the luxury tax it’d take to re-sign him...if he’d even stay. Trading young players for him would be foolish. But if the Blazers could move Moe Harkless or Meyers Leonard for him, they’d probably consider that a win. They’d save money this year while eliminating an entire year of salary obligation in 2019-20. They’d not lose much on the court, they’d gain the veteran experience you mentioned above, and their ledger would look much brighter.
If Harkless or Leonard were the bait, I’d say go for it. Neither is a key player. Saving money makes an otherwise-lateral move better than lateral. If Washington bites for that price, give or take a second-rounder, Portland should make the move.
If the Wizards want more (for a player they’re likely to lose anyway), the Blazers would need to demur. Morris won’t make an impact past this spring unless something unforeseen happens. Portland needs to protect their future assets, not gamble them on a player who won’t change their ultimate fortunes.