After trading Kristaps Porzingis to clear cap space, the Knicks were ridiculed last summer by pundits and fans everywhere for how they used it. They did not sign any star or max-level free agents, and instead of taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft compensation, they opted to instead sign veterans they thought fit the team.
People made very funny jokes such as “LOL they could run an all-power forward lineup” that rival the work of comic legends George Carlin and Steve Martin. There was and is a certain charm about them that forces even larger belly-laughs with every hour they’re repeated. But despite the free agent signees being poor fits and all overpaid, Marcus Morris has had an exceptional season.
Playing on a team with little spacing — and at small forward, despite being best suited for power forward — Mook is averaging 19 points per game and 47% shooting from three. There have been numerous reports that his play could fetch a late first or multiple second round picks. This is the best-case scenario of what could have played out from his signing or any one-year signing. He has acted as a solid on-court mentor and kept the Knicks competitive at times, but most importantly, he’s been good enough to help New York acquire even more assets despite not being signed past this summer.
An executive last night laid out a potential return for Marcus Morris in a trade: a protected first or two seconds.— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) December 11, 2019
The Knicks have had numerous solid vets walk for nothing under the Mills/Perry reign. Finally, they have a chance to get something out of one.
So, right on cue, it’s being reported that the Knicks would rather Knick it up. Marc Berman wrote that, “some members of the front office are leaning toward holding onto Morris at the deadline — unless they get back a star-type player in a large package.” He added, “the source said a minor Morris deal that would net a late-first-round pick and force them to take on a non-expiring contract is not an attractive option at this juncture. The Knicks prefer not to diminish their 2020 or 2021 cap space in any deal.” Ian Begley wrote that “some with the Knicks see Morris as an important part of the future because of what he brings on and off the court.”
Regarding Marcus Morris and potential trades, it’s worth noting that some with the Knicks see Morris as an important part of the future because of what he brings on and off the court. More here: https://t.co/eGdMTCCiZl— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) January 6, 2020
If it is just posturing to get a larger deal, it could pay off; but the behavior in these reports have been norm for Perry and Mills, who have strongly demonstrated the same philosophies of not trading for longer-term contracts (even with draft compensation) throughout their tenure. It’s understandable to not want to give up cap flexibility, but the Knicks are still lacking good young talent and should be accumulating as many chances to acquire some as they can. Keeping cap flexibility is not even a great option — it goes out the door if you are instead using cap space to re-sign a 30-year-old Marcus Morris this summer. The 2020 free agency class is relatively unpromising, anyway.
It’s important to remember how and why the Knicks signed Marcus Morris in the first place. He had multi-year offers from playoff teams, but thought he was worth more money and wanted to prove himself with the Knicks. He made such a strong commitment to the Spurs that they traded young 3-point sniper Davis Bertans to create space for him. After this half-season, he has likely proven himself to be worth the contract he wants. Should the Knicks, one of the worst teams in the NBA, really be committing lots of money to 30-year-old Marcus Morris? He’s likely only going to get worse from here, and there’s not much winning going on with him on the team either. Plus, even if the Knicks do wish to re-sign Morris, they could still do so this summer even if they traded him.
The reasons to keep Morris are to be competitive, to have a vet mentor, and to not look bad to free agents by trading away one of the few members who wanted to be a Knick.
Wanting to be competitive makes sense in theory, as outside of being more enjoyable to watch for fans, a competitive team could attract more free agents in the future. However, the Knicks have only won 10 out of 34 games with Morris on the floor — they’re not all that competitive with him, either.
Morris certainly has been a vocal presence on this team. He seems to have rubbed off on Frank Ntilikina, who’s been more aggressive this season. But there are other veterans out there who can mentor the Knicks’ young players without such a hefty price tag. There are already numerous veterans on the Knicks in Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington and Taj Gibson, who has been a great presence throughout his career. There is also a question of how great a player Morris really is to look up to. He has the second-most technical fouls in the entire NBA with eight, chucks up tons of inefficient mid-range jumpers and averages an abysmal 1.5 assists per game in 32 minutes of play.
It wouldn’t be a great look to trade Morris after he was open about wanting to stay, but it is more important to advance the team. Sending a player to a playoff team for a few months should not be such a bad look, either. The biggest factor in free agents deciding whether to sign with a team is how good they are. Trading or not trading Morris will not be a massive determining factor in the Knicks’ appeal to free agents — it’s likely they won’t have much with or without him on the roster. Trading Morris would likely help the Knicks become more desirable than holding onto him.
Remember, it was only 2017 when the Knicks traded another mid-range-loving veteran who had a distaste for passing and wanted to stay with the Knicks — Carmelo Anthony. The trade landed them the second rounder that became Mitchell Robinson, and is almost certainly the best move Mills and Perry have made in their tenure. It’s strange they would be so against making a similar move.
In Marc Berman’s article about the Knicks wanting to hold onto Morris, he notes that “the Knicks, too, are trying to figure out how Morris has blossomed into posting star-like numbers at age 30 after being known as mostly a role player.” However, this is not a new development. Morris has had stretches like this before, including last season. In the first 34 games last year with the Celtics (as many as Morris has played this season), he averaged 15.4 points per game on 50/44/88 shooting splits. For the next 41 games, he averaged 12.8 points on 41/33/81 splits. If the Knicks hold onto Morris, their newfound star may dim, especially after a neck injury which has been pestering him periodically throughout the season.
Marcus Morris may help development a bit with his mentorship, but trading him would likely help everyone’s development even more. It would help pave the way for better fits, as Randle has been a bit clunky next to him and Knox is likely best suited at power forward, which he would have more opportunities to play at with a Morris trade. It would also clear up minutes for Ignas Brazdeikis and Kenny Wooten, who have been productive in the G League.
Trading Morris would be a tough call, but as far as this team’s future is concerned, it’s the right one.