One key to Mavericks’ success? It may have been Markieff Morris’ speech on March 5

Dallas Mavericks reserve power forward Markieff Morris did not embrace a leadership role during his first few seasons in the NBA.

“I had to grow into this,” said Morris, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound, 34-year old former University of Kansas standout, who has contributed more off the court than in games during this, his 13th-season in the league.

He was speaking in an interview with Kevin Gray on Gray’s sports podcast in mid April in Dallas.

“Early on I would have (cussed out) everybody, said, ‘(Bleep) this and (bleep) that.’ That’s how it was. I was young, immature. It’s how it goes,” added Morris, now with his eighth NBA franchise.

Morris, the twin brother of former KU/current Cleveland Cavaliers forward Marcus Morris, has not let the disappointment of playing in just 26 of the Mavs’ 82 regular-season games (and no playoff games) entering Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves affect his positive influence on the team.

Morris, guard Kyrie Irving and coach Jason Kidd spoke during a hastily called team meeting after a blowout home loss to Indiana on March 5. It was Dallas’ third loss in a row and fifth in six games. It dropped the Mavs’ record to 34-28.

The meeting seemed to spark the Mavs, who immediately won 11 of 12 and closed the regular season with 16 wins in 20 games.

Dallas in the playoffs has defeated the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2. The Mavs now face Minnesota in a series opening road game Wednesday night.

Morris’ input was welcome at the team meeting because, “I’ve been to the playoffs before — the Eastern Conference finals before (with the Miami Heat in 2021-22) the Western Conference finals before (with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019-20). I’ve won a championship (in 2020). I’ve kind of got some insight on how to get there,” Morris said on Gray’s podcast.

“I was able to give my insight on how this thing works, what’s needed. Even if you are a team going to the playoffs if you don’t have that momentum, that camaraderie, it won’t work,” he added.

Morris noted that even though he’s not in the regular rotation, he’d been able to keep his teammates’ attention because of play and effort at practice.

“A lot of times, it’s all about respect,” Morris said to “Do players respect a guy like me? My resume, before I got here, I’ve been on great teams, I had a good resume. But you still have to play some.

“You can’t just talk it, you got to still be able to walk it. And that’s what makes these guys believe in what I say. Obviously, I don’t play (in games much). But if you catch me in practice and see me play, you’d say, he really still can bring it. It’s just not my role for this team (to be in the rotation). I think that’s why people believe what I say.”

Morris said his job is to be the voice of stars Luka Doncic and Irving who “do the job more so leading by example. ... I’ve been around guys that are like that. They speak when they need to.”

He continued.

“It’s not they don’t want to (talk) but maybe that’s not their identity,” Morris added. “When we had that talk that day, it was more so about how our season was going to go. We put all this time, all this work in. We went through the ups and downs but we were falling short right now. So what do we need to do to be able to turn the season around, to be able to compete for a championship?

“I think that’s when guys started realizing we actually have a chance. We’re going to be a laughingstock if we don’t turn this thing around right now. Also the coaches did a great job moving the lineups around. You’ve got to give J.K. (Kidd) and that staff lot of credit.”

Morris at the team meeting in March said he told the squad, “It’s going to take all of us to win. We were identifying the bigger picture what we were we trying to accomplish.”

The Dallas Morning News cited “renewed urgency” after the meeting that included Morris’ speech, which players cited as quite influential.

“Kidd and Irving spoke in the locker room, but Mavericks players and coaches say it was Morris’ forceful message that carried the most weight,” wrote Brad Townsend of the Morning News.

“I don’t know about that narrative; I ain’t no great teammate,” Morris told the newspaper. “(But) I know how we went last year (in not making playoffs). One loss turned into two. Two turned into three. ... Every team, even if you are a good team, you don’t always make the playoffs. It doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to work out.

“That’s mostly what I talked about. I really think this team enjoys each other, but that doesn’t mean the season can’t end abruptly, not making the playoffs. I said: ‘We’ve got to compete every game. They’re coming to beat us. We’ve got a target on our back now because we’re real contenders.’”

Of Morris’ role as a leader, Mavs guard Tim Hardaway Jr., told the Morning News: “(He carries) just as much weight as (Doncic) and (Irving), probably even more because he won a championship. I think he’s our oldest guy on the team, so he’s been around the block. A lot.

“It’s great to have that veteran presence, knowing that he’s reading the game from a different point of view. He’s still making that big of an impact talking to us when we’re coming out of timeouts. Or when we’re on defense in front of our bench. Those little things go a long, long way for us.”

Morris thinks the Mavs can win it all despite the fact Minnesota in the West and either Boston or Indiana in the East remain in the way.

“I think we’ve got a real good shot,” he said on Gray’s podcast. “If you ask me are we going to win the championship based on the momentum we have going in the playoffs, that’s a real big thing. We are all in on what’s needed to do to win. My personal opinion, obviously, it’s going to be super hard, but I think we have the talent.”