DETROIT – I’ve seen Marcus Morris asked multiple times about his displeasure with the Suns. Each time, even years after Phoenix traded him, he answered directly.
Morris never seemed to care about dancing around the edges or holding back on anything. He said what he felt. Grudges weren’t beneath him, which didn’t differentiate him from many. What made Morris exceptional: If he hadn’t moved on, he didn’t pretend as if he did just because that was seen as the “right” thing to do.
But when I asked the Celtics forward about applying lessons from his contract extension with the Suns – which he signed at a discount rate to play with his twin brother, then got traded – to unrestricted free agency next summer, he refrained.
“When it comes time, I’ll let my agent and people that represent me handle all that,” Morris said.
Morris hasn’t completely given up years-old grudges, but the 29-year-old’s worldview has definitely expanded.
He opened up about dealing with anxiety. He became a father in July. He looks to be in greater control on the court.
And he’s making sure it all ties together.
After naming his son Marcus Morris Jr., the new dad changed the name on the back of his jersey to “Morris Sr.” The only player in the league with that suffix on his uniform, Morris said he does it to remind himself of his fatherly pride when he puts on his jersey and to one day show his son how he honored him.
“I grew up without a father,” Morris said. “So having him brought a lot of joy and kind of filled a missing a void that I had in my life.”
Morris didn’t want to get into his contract-year status during the season, but he told Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald before the season, “This year is a big opportunity for me, coming up on my contract year, make sure my family is stable. … Now I’m having a contract year for somebody. I can take care of his kids, and his kids — let the Morris name go on.”
On the court, Morris is off to a swell start. He’s averaging 14.3 points, shooting 52% on 2-pointers and 48% on 3-pointers, with 7.2 rebounds per game. That hot shooting from deep probably isn’t sustainable, but Morris has stepped up while his team’s offense has lagged.
Boston is 4-2 despite ranking 27th in points per possession. That’s the product of a league-best defense and Morris doing just enough offensively to keep the Celtics afloat. His combination of usage percentage (21.3) and true shooting percentage (65.7) rises well above Boston’s other top players’ (axes represent league average):
The 6-foot-9 Morris just finds mismatches and attacks them. Sometimes, it’s that simple.
“He can post smalls. He can stretch bigs,” Stevens said. “He’s a tough guy to guard.”
Conversely and importantly, he has the versatility to defend both smalls and bigs.
“He’s a great fit for how we play,” Stevens said.
Really, he’s a great fit for how every team plays. Who couldn’t use a two-way forward who stretches the court and defends multiple positions, let alone one who also possesses other all-around skills like Morris?
The Celtics are nearly $4 million over the luxury-tax line, and Morris’ salary is $5,375,000. Though ownership has shown a willingness to pay the tax and the impending tax bill is relatively small, Boston could also face huge repeater-rate tax bills down the road. Delaying the clock by dodging the tax altogether this year could hold appeal.
It might be better to trade Morris now and get something in return.
Morris is trying to avoid the noise – “All that talk and all that jibbering, it will go out the window unless I see it on TV or something – but Boston’s activity in the trade market is well-established. On the other hand, the Celtics hold legitimate championship aspirations this season, and depth players like Morris could make the difference.
“I have great relationships with everybody around here,” Morris said. “But obviously, it’s a business. So, at the same time, I’m just going to continue to do what I need to do.”
It’s a lot to juggle – his short- and long-term fits in Boston, the Celtics’ team goals, his son, his play on the court. But if Morris ever need a reminder of what he needs to do, he can always glance at the back of his jersey.