Player Name: Marcus Morris
Stats: 19 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 46.7% (career 36.9%) 3PT in 32 mpg
Contract: expiring deal worth $15,000,000
Impact on Clippers: Moderate-High
The most straightforward weakness that the Clippers have is at starting power forward. Their current starter, Maurice Harkless, is averaging just 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game and shooting 33.3% from three. Essentially a small forward playing out of position, Harkless is just 6’7” and is primarily utilized as a perimeter defender—something that’s largely redundant on a Clippers team that features Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard. During his time in Portland, Harkless has struggled shooting in the playoffs, making just 29% of his career playoff 3PA.
Morris gives the Clippers a pretty major upgrade: a reliable shooter who defenses will respect, a guy who can create his own shot, and a truer PF who is a more natural fit to defend at the position. Harkless’ career high is 28, his season high is 15. Morris has scored 28 or more five times this season, and he’s averaging more than Harkless’ season high. Beyond his long-running reputation as a capable shooter, Morris has been a bona fide marksman this season, hitting nearly 47% of his attempts from deep on 6.6 attempts per 36 minutes. When the ball swings away from the Clippers’ stars, Morris is a much deadlier threat, but also a more versatile offensive player, capable of putting the ball on the floor and making a play. With that increased ability, though, comes questionable efficiency: almost a fifth of his shot attempts come on long twos, where he shoots just 39.3%—those aren’t good possessions. Would Doc Rivers be able to get Morris to buy into a more refined offensive role? It’s possible, but he got a good amount of touches and shots on some good Boston Celtics teams the last couple of years, so it’s worth questioning whether he simply is who he is.
On the defensive end, while Morris makes more sense positionally than Harkless, he also isn’t as high a caliber of defender. There are going to be some situational match-ups where he might make the Clippers stronger on that end, but overall he probably sets the team back defensively. Overall, it should be a blow that is made up for by his offensive impact and the Clippers’ other elite defenders. But the bigger reason to reserve exuberance at a potential Morris acquisition is that he doesn’t do much to address any of the Clippers’ biggest problems: offensive fluidity and their center rotation. Far from a natural distributor, Morris’ isolation tendencies may even exacerbate the ball-stopping that goes on in the Clippers’ offense. And while it could work in some extreme small-ball scenarios, Morris isn’t a legitimate option at center in the playoff match-ups that are bound to give the Clippers the most trouble, and while he’d be an excellent floor-spacer for Montrezl Harrell offensively, that pairing would have interior defensive issues against elite bigs.
Likeliness of Availability: High
Despite Morris’ flaws, he might be the most likely of the targets discussed in this series to actually end up on the Clippers. We know that they like him: the two sides were in advanced talks for him to join the team in free agency this summer before he passed, and the Clippers made the trade to bring in Harkless into that salary slot instead. While Morris ended up getting a higher salary for this season—$15M instead of around $11M—the Clippers could easily make salaries match with Harkless and any of their small contracts.
In terms of making a deal, the Knicks should be open to talks. At 11-31, they’re in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, and Morris is a 30-year-old veteran on an expiring deal who is likely to leave in free agency next summer. Turning him into a piece that could potentially help them going forward, whether it’s one of the Clippers’ current prospects or a draft asset, would make sense for the Knicks (not to mention bird rights for Harkless, who is still only 26). That said, there will have to be some sort of tangible value for the Knicks if they’re going to part with their leading scorer mid-season and still try to appease New York fans and media that are extremely displeased with the organization.
My guess is that if the Clippers are willing to part with their 2020 1st round pick for Morris, they’ll have a deal. If the Knicks are willing to take a deal without that 1st round pick, it would likely hinge upon their front office having a high evaluation on one of Jerome Robinson, Mfiondu Kabengele, or Terance Mann.