We knew this was going to happen. The NBA’s angriest kinda-good player has finally lashed out against his team on record, expecting a trade. Markieff Morris is not cool with any part of the Phoenix Suns organization right now, he’s not happy that they traded his twin brother earlier in the summer, and he’s hoping for his cake and also his ability to eat said cake as well.
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He wants to be dealt from the Suns, and he wants to keep all of his money. Maybe not a fair request, but an understandable one.
"One thing for sure, I am not going to be there," Morris said Tuesday after a morning workout at Competitive Edge Sports in King of Prussia.
"If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. " he added. "I don't give a [freak]. I am not going to be there at all. That's just what it is."
Well, not really.
The Suns, after losing out on signing LaMarcus Aldridge over the offseason, don’t really have a power forward beyond Morris – who started all 82 games for them in 2014-15 while averaging over 15 points and six rebounds in just 31 minutes a contest.
You can be fined for merely saying "I demand a trade." Morris’ deal is guaranteed, and if he decides to sit out games he’ll lose out on increments of his $8 million yearly salary. If he sits out of training camp – even if he just declines to show up to meetings with the media on the first day of camp – he’ll leave himself liable to be fined via the bylaws of both his contract and the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
This is why Markieff hedged a bit in talking with Pompey when talking about camp, which begins in the last week of September:
"I've got to show up. No question." said Markieff Morris, who is scheduled to make $8 million this season. "You can't do that. I will be a professional. Don't get me wrong.
"But it won't get that far. … I'm going to be out before then, should be."
“Should be.” Not “will be,” or “it doesn’t matter I’m not showing up if I’m not traded,” but rather “should be.”
As in, “I hate this, get me out of here. I hate it here, get me out of here.”
Morris and his brother Marcus thrived while playing for a surprising Suns team in 2013-14, one that nearly made the playoffs in a deep Western Conference during what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Following that campaign, second-year general manager Ryan McDonough and the twins came up with a contract scenario that was just about unprecedented in NBA history.
The two – roommates who were just about inseparable – would be given $52 million over four seasons, and they’d be allowed to divvy that up between themselves as they saw fit. Markieff, the starter who emerged out of his brother’s collegiate shadow to become the better pro, rightfully took $32 million of it. Marcus took the rest and settled into a bench role.
Then the Year From Hell happened.
The Suns, due to various reasons that weren’t often the Morris brothers’ fault, disappointed in 2014-15. The team dealt guards Goran Dragic (good deal!) and Isaiah Thomas (eh) in a panicked trade deadline, and then dealt Marcus in July after it became apparent that LaMarcus Aldridge might consider the team as a free agent. Recruiting LMA meant spending over $50 million on 32-year old center Tyson Chandler in order to entice LaMarcus, and it should be noted that the Marcus Morris deal (for draft picks that the team will never see) was not just a salary cap-clearing move.
Markieff and Marcus are awaiting a 2016 trial on felony assault charges. Less important but also of significance were the comments Markieff made about docile Suns crowds during the regular season; and as any Suns fan will tell you, watching the endlessly chirping Markieff during the season was a bit of a chore. The man would not stop complaining to referees, and his coach Jeff Hornacek.
"They can tell you anything about the case and all of that," he said of his brother being traded. "Nah, it has nothing to do with that. That's just all disrespect and all unprofessional. They called us unprofessional. That's what that is, unprofessional. No one is trying to hear that."
It’s absolutely true that while professional sports teams might give lip service and carefully-worded responses to ongoing off-court cases, they are far more concerned with on-court matters. And signing LaMarcus Aldridge (for whatever reason, at nearly age 30) mattered to Phoenix, which is why they traded Marcus Morris’ contract off of the salary ledger. This wasn’t some moral-bent that took over, otherwise they would have traded both brothers in February.
What’s more troubling is Markieff’s ideas about his station. From his talk with the Inquirer:
"The GM, I've been there longer than him, the coaches, everybody. I've been there the longest, and I don't get the respect to be like, 'Yo Keef, we are going to trade your brother. You are our future power forward.' I'm the future power forward. I'm the premier player of the team. … That's just how business is done I guess."
Yeah, that absolutely is how business is done.
You don’t get to yell at teammates, coaches, referees and most importantly fans and then act as if you’re allowed carte blanche just because you were a member of two terrible Suns teams in 2012 and 2013. For other tenured players, yes. Possibly you’ll be part of the decision making process with a GM and coach that were hired after your second season.
Not for an above-average player that made life living hell for, say it again with me, teammates, coaches, referees and fans in 2014-15. Just because you’ve been there for all of four years.
As we wrote earlier in the summer, none of us can understand what Markieff Morris is going through. Not only do different individual athletes respond to unexpected and unwanted transactions in different ways, but we have the entire looming presence of his relationship with not just a family member, but a twin brother. The Phoenix front office’s projections and assumptions from July were off-base then, just as any “just can it and show up for work, millionaire” dismissals from us would be off-base now.
Markieff is a different case, which is why his final statement to the Inquirer is telling:
"It's just when you get to a point in your life, you just need to move on," Markieff Morris said. "That's what I need to do for my career, my family, myself. I just need to move on."
If that’s what’s best for you, then negotiate a buyout. If you so badly need to move on, then leave money on the table and go to your choice of team.
If Markieff Morris’ situation is unorthodox, then he may have to act in ways that fly in the face of NBA orthodoxy. The Suns aren’t going to trade their only power forward at his low point for pennies on the dollar, so don’t expect a deal (unless we’ve overestimated this front office) any time soon. And if this continues, then Markieff Morris may have to put his money where his mouth is.
If he declines to, we understand. Working for $8 million a year is nothing to casually walk away from.
Until he makes a firm decision on either side, though, he’s just another player trying to have that cake while eating it as well. And if he continues to bleat like this while staying with the Suns, then we can just about lose the “we have to treat this guy differently because he has a twin brother”-caveat.
Markieff Morris isn’t powerless, here. He might not be happy, but there is something he can do about it. It would cost him money, but that’s his decision to make.
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