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

AP Photo/Steven Senne
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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.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.