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Elfrid Payton suspended, Marcus Morris fined after embarrassing finish against the Grizzlies

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Mook said things you just can’t say. The Knicks are frustrated.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks
Marcus Morris joins the fracas prior to making the comments that cost him 35k.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Not long after Elfrid Payton put his hands on Jae Crowder near the end of a 21-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night, Marcus Morris put his foot in his own mouth by saying Crowder plays with “female-like tendencies” and calling him “woman-like.” On Thursday night, the NBA handed out punishments, suspending Payton one game without pay and fining Morris $35,000.

First things first: the penalties are warranted. The Knicks had the right to be upset by Crowder’s decision to steal the inbounds pass and then dribble out to try and shoot an unnecessary three, but shoving a guy while he’s in the air is clearly going to get you suspended.

As for Morris, although he quickly issued an apology on Twitter, the damage was done the moment the words left his mouth in a post-game interview in the locker room.

Morris might not be the worst person on planet earth, and his remarks may have merely been made in the heat of a difficult moment, but he rightfully received a rash of criticism in the wake of what he said. Not that it has ever been okay to denigrate women as softer or less capable than men — not just in sports but also in any aspect of life — but perhaps 10 or 15 years ago Morris would have been able to sneak through this ordeal relatively unscathed. In the age of social media, however, there’s no hiding from what he said.

The Knicks issued a statement on Thursday saying they understand the NBA’s decision to suspend Payton and fine Morris.

“We agree that Marcus’ comments were offensive and unacceptable. While we do believe his apology was sincere, that type of speech does not reflect the values of respect and inclusion that our organization stands for, and cannot be tolerated.”

Good for them. The Knicks are an organization that simply doesn’t stand for belittling women, unless you ask James Dolan about that pesky sexual harassment case from 2007, which ended with a jury awarding Anucha Browne Sanders millions after determining that she was the victim of a hostile environment created by former Knicks president Isiah Thomas, and was unjustly fired by Dolan after making her claims.

Here’s Dolan responding to a question about that case from an interview he did with ESPN back in 2018 (spoiler alert: unlike Morris, Dolan did not apologize):

Asked whether he has any regrets about his handling of the case, Dolan still clings to his oft-stated position that the jury got it wrong. “I think we didn’t defend ourselves well,” he says, “so shame on us. ... If I had to do it again, I’d be much more careful about how we defended ourselves. I’d be much more involved about it. I’d make sure that the truth came out, and the truth didn’t come out. People told me when you’re in these kind of trials that it’s stacked against you, as being the big employer versus, particularly, a minority woman. ... The second mistake we made was that, even in defending yourself, you might come to the conclusion that there was no way to win the case, and so settle and get the thing out of the papers. That would’ve been probably a better decision then, too. So both decisions were probably not good, and I’m the guy in charge, so I have to take responsibility for them.”

Oh. Uh, let’s get back to the matter at hand, which is Morris. The NBA was not alone in its displeasure with what Morris said. Liz Cambage, an Australian born basketballer who plays for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, went off on Twitter.

Cambage, who is listed at 6’8” and 216 pounds, sure seems like she has the right to be upset with Morris. Last season, she averaged 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. In 2018, she averaged almost a double double per game, with 23 points and 9.7 boards. Maybe her and Morris should play one-on-one for charity.

Meanwhile, Crowder, who himself was fined $25,000 by the NBA, enjoyed some all-caps clowning of Morris in the aftermath of the evening.

On Thursday at practice, Morris doubled down on his apology, saying his comments were unprofessional, noting that he wasn’t even thinking when he spoke after the Grizzlies game.

This all comes literally right up against the trade deadline, which is Feb. 6. Morris is one of the only Knicks who might have real trade value, although reports say the franchise views him as part of the rebuild and are interested in signing him long term.

It also comes as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Kristaps Porzingis trade, which so far hasn’t quite worked out the way the front office thought it was going to. Tell God your plans and whatnot.

The Knicks are 13-36, and no one knows how the point guard minutes are going to shake out during their next game, which takes place Friday in Indiana against the Pacers.

Will Dennis Smith Jr. play 48 minutes? Is Frank Ntilikina’s groin okay? Was Mike Miller being truthful when he said Ntilikina’s groin was the reason he didn’t get in the game against the Grizzlies? Will we ever get to see Kenny Wooten play? These are the types of questions we’re asking about the 2019-20 New York Knicks.