It's almost hard to remember what this LA Clippers team was like before the trade deadline. Maurice Harkless was a mainstay in the starting rotation, Jerome Robinson was struggling to see time on the floor, and Marcus Morris was putting up career-high numbers for the New York Knicks.
Plenty has changed since then, including the indefinite suspension of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, it's impossible to say whether play will resume at all this year.
That makes assessing Morris's performance with the Clippers a bit more difficult. He appeared in just 12 games for the franchise, and that doesn't tell us a lot about his fit. It's important to keep the sample size in mind.
With that said, let's start with Morris's beginnings with the team.
Morris's ties with the Clippers go back well beyond the trade deadline. He was someone that the franchise targeted in free agency last year, and Morris reportedly had a three-year, $41 million offer to join the team. However, he chose not to accept as he was hoping to receive a two-year deal worth upwards of $40 million. LA couldn't afford it, so the front office added Harkless via trade instead.
His free agency only got more complicated from there. After verbally agreeing to a two-year deal worth $20 million with the San Antonio Spurs, Morris backed out of the agreement and accepted a larger offer from the New York Knicks: A one-year deal at $15 million.
That decision turned out to be extremely beneficial for Morris, who balled out for the Knicks earlier this season. In 43 games, he averaged 19.6 points and shot 43.9 percent from three-point range on 6.1 attempts. Those numbers are easily the best of his career. And although the Knicks weren't winning, several contenders were keeping a close eye on Morris and monitoring his availability.
Unsurprisingly, the Clippers were one of those teams. Harkless, as great as he was on the defensive end of the floor, was not cutting it on offense. He was a capable slasher, but Harkless was a non-factor from beyond the arc. Opposing teams sagged off of him, causing some spacing issues for LA's offense. Ultimately, the franchise needed an upgrade if it was going to win games on both ends.
Fortunately, the Knicks were looking to capitalize on Morris's big season, and the Clippers ended up surrendering Harkless and their 2020 first-round pick to get him via trade. Robinson was also shipped to the Washington Wizards in the deal, which returned Isaiah Thomas to LA (who was waived a few days later).
With that, Morris was officially a member of the LA Clippers.
Morris made his debut on February 9 in a road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, going for 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists in a 41-point victory. The shooting that he had been lauded for in New York wasn't there yet — Morris went 5-for-12 from the field and 0-for-4 from three-point range — but it was his first game, and he otherwise looked the part of a solid, two-way wing.
The 11 games that followed were more of the same. Save for an 18-point showing against the Phoenix Suns, Morris has been very streaky on offense. The big numbers he posted in New York simply haven't shown up.
That said, it's important to keep in mind that Morris has been forced to undergo a significant role change with the Clippers. He was the best scoring option for a depleted Knicks team, while LA already had Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell doing a lot of the heavy lifting. It's expected that he would struggle at first, and unfortunately, we haven't been able to see his best on that end just yet.
A lack of reps with the team is probably one of the biggest reasons for that. The Clippers have not had a ton of formal practices this season, so Morris has been playing how he did in New York. That meant settling for contested jumpers at times, which is far from the best shot available when guys like Leonard, George and Williams are also on the floor.
As soon as the Clippers can get those shots out of his game and work more valuable, open shots in, he'll be a seamless fit on that end. It'll just take some time and effort, and with this stoppage of play, that could already be happening.
On the other hand, Morris has been a terror for opposing teams on defense. While he's not as versatile a defender as Harkless, Morris is more physical and aggressive, but still fleet of foot — something that blends perfectly with this current roster. He's better equipped to handle stronger 3's and 4's, and the Clippers could get crafty with him as a small-ball 5 as well.
Alongside Leonard and George, the Clippers have a terrific trio of stoppers on the wing and block. Add Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac to that mix, and there's potential for it to be one of the best defensive units in the game right now.
Ultimately, Morris just needs more time with the team to understand how he can best help the team on both offense and defense — but mostly offense.
Things could get interesting with Morris this summer, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent once the season comes to an end. His current play and the anticipated drop in the salary cap should keep him well within the Clippers' price range, even if they re-sign Harrell. That's the best-case scenario.
However, it's also possible that both Morris and Harrell leave this summer in search of more lucrative deals, leaving the Clippers with a significant hole at the 4 and 5. There will be other options available of course, but these two guys best fit the culture that LA has established in recent years — especially Harrell, who has had a big hand in shaping it.
If the season does resume and Morris can bring it up a notch on offense, it would be in LA's best interest to bring him back on a short-term deal. Otherwise, it may be best to focus on Harrell and look elsewhere for a replacement wing.