Over the summer, when Markieff Morris demanded a trade from the Phoenix Suns, the organization said it had no interest in honoring his request.
Though Morris, upset over the team trading his twin brother Marcus to the Detroit Pistons, was more willing to share his thoughts than the team probably would have preferred, he was seen as a 25-year-old forward coming off a season in which he averaged career highs with 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Under contract through the 2018-19 season on a four-year, $32 million extension, he was a good young player on a very team-friendly deal, so even if he was causing headaches, it may not have been prudent to unload him.
A little more than a month into the season, however, and things might have changed.
Morris has been very quiet about where he would like to play; in fact, the only answer he has given since reporting for training camp about where he would like to play is Phoenix. Now 26, Morris has been lauded for his hard work and great presence in the locker room, so whatever residual effects there may have been from his tumultuous offseason have either subsided or were never an issue to begin with.
His play, on the other hand, has been problematic.
Morris is averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting a woeful .386 from the field. He has made just 28 percent of his 3-point attempts, and is turning the ball over 2.2 times per game, a career high. There have been occasional flashes of his former self, but for the most part, this season has been nothing but a struggle for the fifth-year pro out of Kansas.
It all seemed to hit rock bottom for Morris during the team’s recently-completed road trip, where he was a DNP – Coach’s Decision for the team’s loss in Memphis and then came off the bench for just seven minutes in a win over Chicago.
As it stands, Morris — a starter for all 82 games last season — appears to be behind both Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer in the team’s depth chart at power forward.
A guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough touched on the situation.
“His attitude has been very good and that’s something I think people externally don’t see,” he said. “But if you saw the shot of our bench reaction the other night when Mirza hit that shot, he was excited. He jumped up, he celebrated.
“Are we shopping him? I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but we’re looking at whatever we can do to upgrade our team. The trade deadline is in late February. Despite our struggles, I think as we sit here today we’re one game out of the eight spot in the West, and I think we just went through the toughest part of our schedule and we were able to keep our head above water, so to speak.”
At 9-13 the Suns are one game back of the Houston Rockets for the last playoff spot in the Western conference, but the are also tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves and just a half-game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. Phoenix is just 2-8 over its last 10 games, though with home games against the Orlando Magic, Trail Blazers and T’Wolves on the docket, things could definitely look much better by the end of the weekend.
“Our goal this year is not to just make the playoffs, but to try and get in is obviously the first step then see what we can do to compete in the playoffs,” he said. “I think you may see us be more aggressive than we have been in years past, trying to add, but no, it’s not Markieff. There’s nobody on this roster we’re just trying to get rid of.
“We don’t really look to make moves that would have us take a step back, or I guess be considered lateral moves. If there’s a trade that makes our team a whole lot better in the short and long-term, we’ll do it. But short of that we’ll ride with the group we have.”
And if that means playing Leuer and Teletovic more, so be it. The former is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting .459 from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range, while the latter is chipping in with 8.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting .427 from the floor and making 46 percent of his attempts from downtown.
McDonough said they’ll see if Morris can get things going again and make a contribution as the season goes on, but when asked if he has at least fielded calls about the player, the GM declined to divulge much.
“Let’s put it this way, we’ll be active and aggressive,” he said. “Usually you see the NBA trade market heat up a little bit between probably next week, in mid-December, and the trade deadline, which is in late-February — that’s when most of the deals get done.”