The decision to part with one of the franchise’s key figures really came as little surprise.
In fact, the only thing people may be questioning is not the move itself, but that it took so long.
We’re talking about the Phoenix Suns trading away disgruntled and struggling forward Markieff Morris, right? Wait a minute, you mean they parted with head coach Jeff Hornacek? And Morris is still around?
Well OK then.
That thought process — or at least something similar — has certainly been on peoples’ minds since word came out that the Suns had indeed relieved Hornacek of his duties a little more than midway through his third season on the job.
In fact, Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Dave Burns even noted it in his column discussing the call to part with Hornacek before Morris:
The fact that Morris outlasted Hornacek is hard to wrap your brain around. You want to talk about “deserve?” Hornacek deserved a chance to coach a roster that didn’t have a Morris twin on it. That chance never came.
Morris has been a hot topic since the summer, when he demanded a trade after the team already shipped out his twin brother Marcus to the Detroit Pistons. Many believed the team would unload him before the season began, but when that did not happen, it was thought that a deal still wouldn’t take too long to materialize.
While Markieff was saying all the right things about moving on from his tumultuous summer and wanting to remain with the Suns, his struggles on the court and subsequent removal from the starting lineup and string of DNP-CD made it seem like his time in the Valley was running out.
Yet, here the team is, on Feb. 2, getting ready to host the Toronto Raptors without Hornacek but with Morris.
A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday, Suns GM Ryan McDonough was asked if keeping Morris around ended up making Hornacek’s job more difficult or undermined his authority at all.
“I don’t want to talk about specific players on the roster in that manner,” McDonough said. “What I will say is that these decisions, the decisions to trade for players, either coming or going, to sign players as free agents, to draft players — those are all organizational decisions.
“They’re not made just by me or just by one person.”
McDonough said the way he does his job is to receive input from all throughout the staff, including ownership, his staff and the coaching staff, and then weighs the opinions. With that, the desire to keep Morris around was one he was not alone in having.
“We made an organizational decision to go forward this year with Markieff Morris on the roster; it obviously hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would,” the GM said. “We’re still optimistic that he gets it turned around and starts playing up the level that he’s played at the last few years.
“But it wasn’t something where we made the decision and the coaching staff fought it — that was not the case of the situation.”
Last season, Morris looked like an ascending NBA player while averaging career highs in points (15.3), rebounds (6.2) and assists (2.3) per game while shooting .465 and making quite a few clutch shots late in games.
However, this season he is averaging just 10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He’s shooting a career-worst .384 and has seen sporadic court time.
Despite his struggles and the baggage he entered the season with, the team’s reluctance to part with the 26-year-old is understandable when you remember he was signed to a team-friendly four-year contract extension last year that will pay him an average of roughly $8 million per season. While that may seem a bit steep given what he has produced this season, if he can get back to where he was just one year ago, it would be a steal.
McDonough and the Suns know that, and that’s why they believed — or hoped, maybe — he would be salvageable.
“We hoped he’d play up to the level that he’s played at the past couple years and that he’d be professional and be one of the better low-post scorers in the league, one of the better low-post defenders int he league,” he said. “Obviously it hasn’t gone great so far but we’re still optimistic that there’s a lot of games left in the season that he’ll get it turned around.”