Trick or Treat: Wizards Aim High with Medium Risk in Trade for Markieff Morris | Wizards Blog Truth About

Trick or Treat: Wizards Aim High with Medium Risk in Trade for Markieff Morris

Updated: February 18, 2016


The Washington Wizards have traded two very disposable players and have punted their participation in the 2016 NBA Draft (1) to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a 26-year old prospect named Markieff Morris. Morris, drafted 13th overall out of Kansas in 2011, is in his fifth year in the NBA. In September 2014, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract extension with the Suns—the Wizards are thus slated to pay Morris $24 million through the 2018-19 season. As of now, he is a piece of the franchise’s future core, along with other Wizards signed after this current 2015-16 season (John Wall, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Marcin Gortat, and Bradley Beal when he’s likely signed to a new contract extension this summer).

This is a very bold move by Team President Ernie Grunfeld and his front office staff. One could even consider it desperate, but the trade is sprinkled with enough foresight while the Wizards aim to improve in the interim. The move also doesn’t hinder Washington’s ability to max Bradley Beal this offseason while remaining players in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. But this move might also blow up in Washington’s face in a number of ways. Regardless of the future outcome, both Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman were at risk of being employed elsewhere (2) next season (and still are). Before we get into what Morris brings, good and bad, let’s unpack what the Wizards lose.

Not much, aside from the value of a protected future first round pick, which could change drastically over the coming months. Prior to the 2013-14 season, Washington used a future pick and a player who never played in the NBA again (Emeka Okafor) to acquire their starting center, Marcin Gortat, over the past three seasons. The pick turned out to be No. 18 overall and Phoenix used it to select Tyler Ennis (3), a young player not of any consequence for Washington’s franchise plans (4). If the season ended today the Wizards would miss the playoffs and likely surrender the 12th overall pick to the Suns; but they would still have Morris locked in for three more seasons at a steal ($8 million per year) in relation to his talent.

The Wizards have also sent DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries to the Suns, who are expected to waive at least one of those players. Blair, according to several advanced metrics, has been the worst Wizard this season (5) and probably would not have seen 218 minutes on the court had it not been for injuries and garbage time. Blair displayed a poor attitude last season when he wasn’t granted the playing time he thought he deserved but seemed to understand that during this past training camp and was a better teammate this past season, particularly if you buy recent social media endorsements from John Wall and Marcin Gortat.

Humphries was a shrewd sign-and-trade acquisition by the Wizards in July 2014 (6) and has been playing on a very affordable contract (7). He served as a decent roster filler, he was OK at rebounding, his midrange game was on point, and he tried to learn a 3-point shot this offseason (and the results weren’t terrible!). But Humphries was also a poor defender, often injured this season, and really just did not have the sort of talent that commands respect from teammates or opponents. Again, Blair and Humphries were both very disposable and not part of the franchise’s plans moving forward. That much was very clear.

Back to Morris: he’s a well-known malcontent; the type of attitude that Grunfeld and Wittman usually would not touch with a 10-foot selfie stick (if they ever, in fact, would touch a selfie stick). After Morris’ twin brother, Marcus, was traded from Phoenix to Detroit this past July, attitude issues with Markieff became magnified. (The twin brothers were also hit with a felony assault charge in April 2015 stemming from an incident at a rec center in January 2015; the charges are still pending.) Since September, Markieff Morris has been fined for demanding a trade, suspended for throwing a towel in then-coach Jeff Hornacek’s face (who’s since been fired), and had a public dustup with teammate Archie Goodwin on the Suns’ bench.

You also might remember that in early-December in a tight game against the Wizards in Washington, Morris drew a technical foul with the game on the line for refusing to stop attempting to change lane positions when lining up for a free throw attempt by teammate Brandon Knight. The technical didn’t end up costing Phoenix (Bradley Beal missed it) but the Suns still wound up losing. It was an odd, comical, and immature scene. And now that guy is a Wizard.

A change of scenery could make an immense difference for Morris. Aside from the Milwaukee Bucks and these very Washington Wizards, the Phoenix Suns have been the most disappointing team in the NBA this season. At 14-40 they are tied with the Brooklyn Nets for the third-worst record in the league (8). Morris no longer trusted the management or coaching staff in Phoenix (although he played very well since Hornacek’s departure under interim head coach Earl Watson) and it showed in his production. His field goal percentage (.465 and .486 over the previous two seasons) dropped to below 40 percent this season; he’s a career 32 percent shooter from 3-point land but that dipped to below 29 percent this season. Morris’ ability to fill up a box score with rebounds, assists, and steals has not necessarily wavered during a disappointing season in Phoenix. That said, for a player his size (6-foot-10), Morris’ rebounding prowess is a tad underwhelming—his career 11.9 percent rebounding rate would rank behind Gortat’s 18.2, Drew Gooden’s 15.7, Blair’s 14.9, Humphries’ 14.1, and Nene’s 13.2 this season.

But what Morris does have is passion, fire, a competitive nature (he dunked on Blake Griffin like this!)—intangibles that could be a lasting shot of B-12 in the Wizards’ collective arms, if nurtured, or qualities that could further disrupt a Wizards locker room already lacking stability. Can Randy Wittman do it? Don’t ask any sort of magic 8-ball. Wittman is known for taking a hard stance with players—“tough love,” if you will. I’ll never forget the time that he said (paraphrased), “I’m done with these damn kids!” and then subsequently benched JaVale McGee for being, pardon the accurate expression, an asshole. Wittman drew hard lines in the sand with other players such as Andray Blatche and has generally been known for being fair with all of his players, stars or not. Wittman is credited with helping shift the culture in Washington toward winning and was justly given a three-year contract extension in the summer of 2014 (with a team option for the final year, 2016-17). But this season the Wizards have been a disappointment, and signs continue to mount that Wittman does not totally have the ears of his players, that he can’t keep them motivated, that the team has hit a ceiling under his command. Wittman was already coaching for his job and this hasn’t changed.

This is a smart, sink-or-swim move for the Wizards. Giving up a top-9 protected pick for a talent like Morris was as close to a no-brainer as they could get—all things considered for a team desperate to continue its playoff run and show that it can be a “destination” for a future free agent like Kevin Durant or Al Horford. If Morris doesn’t work out, his talent and reasonable contract (in light of the escalating salary cap) will still be held in decent regard as another team’s treasure. In the interim and going forward over the last 31 games of this regular season, per reports from the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, the Wizards are expected to start Morris at the 4, moving Jared Dudley back to the bench (the role the Wizards designed for him in the first place). Morris will primarily be a boost to team offense desperate for improvement (despite an insistence that defense has been the predominant issue—and it is, just not leaps-and-bounds more of a concern than poor offense), and Morris, when motivated, will be more capable on defense out of the 4 position than anyone else on Washington’s roster with his combination of size and speed.

The Wizards have made a move to improve now while still generally being caretakers of their future (OK, sure, the pick! It’s gone!), and for that it’s hard to fault them too much. And if it doesn’t work out, it will be easy to place blame. Team Owner Ted Leonsis will have run out of excuses or reasons to keep the team’s front office and coaching staff intact. He’ll be able to clean house while maintaining a roster of All-Star talent in John Wall and Bradley Beal, promising youth in Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre (Morris aside), and the flexibility to really, and truly, move his franchise forward.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day

[Photo Credits: Jeff Swinger and Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports]

  1. That is, the Wizards sent Phoenix a top 9 protected (through 2021) first round pick; their 2016 second round pick was already traded to the Atlanta Hawks in the Kelly Oubre acquisition.
  2. Or more likely, not employed at all.
  3. CORRECTION: This post originally stated that the Suns used Washington’s 14th overall pick to select T.J. Warren. No. 14 was Phoenix’s own pick; the Wizards transferred the 18th pick (Ennis) in the Gortat deal. Ennis is now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and has been assigned to the D-League.
  4. Or rather, getting a player like Gortat, and then re-signing him, was totally worth sacrificing the pick.
  5. Blair is the only Wizard in the negative in Win Shares (-0.1) and his Box Score Plus-Minus of minus-6.8 is only better than the minus-8.1 of Ryan Hollins, once-upon-a-time 10-day contract rental.
  6. Washington gave up a heavily protected second round pick and a trade exception to Boston in exchange for Humphries
  7. Humphries’ contract: $13 million, three years, and team option for the third year (2016-17).
  8. The 22-32 Bucks are 5.5 games out of the playoffs and the 23-28 Wizards, at least, are just three games out of the playoffs.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.