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New father, Marcus Morris shows poise in big season for himself and Celtics

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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):

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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?

If there’s any team, it’s Boston, which also has two young promising forwards in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and a max-contract forward in Gordon Hayward.

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.

Plus, will the Celtics really re-sign Morris next summer, when Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Terry Rozier can become free agents?

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.

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.