Markieff Morris is finally on his way out of Phoenix. The Suns have reportedly traded the disgruntled forward to the Washington Wizards. SI grades the deadline move.
The Suns and Wizards have reportedly agreed to a trade that will send Markieff Morris to Washington in exchange for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a 2016 first-round pick (top-nine protected).
Who won? Who lost? Let’s take a look.
Outgoing: Markieff Morris
Incoming: Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair, 2016 first-round pick (top-nine protected)
After bungling its handling of Morris for months, Phoenix finally parted with the disgruntled power forward in surprisingly productive fashion. Just to recap, Morris was charged with felony aggravated assault for his role in a beating, fined for publicly demanded a trade and suspended for throwing a towel at his coach while posting a career-low 11.1 PER and shooting a career-worst 39.7% from the field. Given the Suns’ general dysfunction and Morris’s value-killing red flags, it was fair to wonder whether Phoenix would have to simply give him away.
Instead, Suns GM Ryan McDonough landed a quality draft asset: Although the pick is top-nine protected, Washington is currently 12th in the draft order and hoping to make a playoff push. In other words, the pick will likely convey this season, giving the Suns the possibility of three first-round picks (their own, Washington’s and Cleveland’s). That’s a good way to move on from what has been an atrocious and deflating season.
Money-wise, Phoenix cuts its payroll by roughly $1.6 million this season—Morris is owed $8 million while Humphries/Blair will earn $6.4 million—and escape paying the $24 million owed to Morris through 2018–19. Although the Suns will have Humphries on their books for $4.6 million in 2016–17, they have still increased their salary cap spending power by $2.8 million this summer. It probably goes without saying, but Humphries, 31, and Blair, 26, are unlikely to be on-court difference-makers for the free-falling Suns.
It’s a shame for all parties that it took Phoenix this long to move Morris, but McDonough did about as well as he could hope considering the circumstances. Being forced to take back Humphries’s 2016–17 salary is the only thing holding this back from receiving a perfect score.
Outgoing: Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair, 2016 first-round pick (top-nine protected)
Incoming: Markieff Morris
The Wizards were in prime “We need to do something just to do something” territory thanks to their slow start following a nice run in the 2015 playoffs. Morris (11.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.4 APG) addresses a clear need: When he’s in the right frame of mind, he’s a versatile and talented forward who can score in isolation, hit the glass and defend both forward positions. He should be able to accomplish many of the same things that Paul Pierce was tasked with last season. The prospect of a fully-functioning John Wall/Bradley Beal/Jared Dudley/Morris/Marcin Gortat lineup has some first-round upset potential in the playoffs (if they can get there).
For this deal to pan out, though, the Wizards will need a recommitted and refocused Morris. In Phoenix, Morris posted a terrible minus-9.3 net rating this season, leading former coach Jeff Hornacek to bench him at times and openly question his impact when he was on the court. Washington is left hoping that a badly-needed change of scenery will help Morris recapture his 2014–15 form (15.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 15.8 PER). If that happens, Morris has a chance to deliver excellent value for the next three seasons, as his contract is relatively modest for a starting four and will only look better as the salary cap increases.
The pick is a much bigger deal than the outgoing players from Washington’s standpoint because Humphries and Blair logged less than 700 combined minutes this season. The Wizards seem to have reached a reasonable conclusion: With 25-and-under talents Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. already on the roster, a middle-of-the-pack 2016 pick was expendable. Getting Morris, 26, through his prime years on a reasonable contract is a defensible gamble, despite his personality concerns. Washington exits the All-Star break three games back from Charlotte in the playoff hunt, so Morris will need to hit the ground running and hold himself to a higher level of personal accountability.
One last piece of good news: Taking on Morris’s added expense shouldn’t complicate Washington’s ability to make a max-level offer this summer as it plunges ahead with its hopes to land Kevin Durant or another impact player.