#KnicksTakes: Trading Marcus Morris

There’s always something to talk about when it comes to the New York Knicks. Even when they’re boring, just quietly going about their business, people find a way to reach for that controversial Knicks’ take.

This is not that.

#KnicksTakes aims to address the most worthwhile Knicks issues, conversations, and debates, and today, with the deadline around the corner, we’re talking Marcus Morris and TRADE SEASON.

Most fans agree that over the next couple of weeks, we need to make moves for the short and long term betterment of the franchise. Who are the prime trade candidates? Allonzo Trier is on the outs; Dennis Smith, Jr. needs another reboot; Taj Gibson’s recent scoring outburst has increased his value; Reggie Bullock’s return might have a contender or two after his shooting…but the hottest trade candidate on the roster by far is Marcus Morris.

#KnicksTwitter is divided here. Those in favor of moving him argue that since he (likely) isn’t in the future plans, keeping the guy who’ll fetch the best return just to win a few more games is illogical.

Those in favor of keeping him argue, well, a lot of things.

I’ve become a big Mook fan. 19.2 PPG (career-best) on 43.9% from three (career-best) to go along with 5.5 rebounds and a solid defensive reputation. He’s single-handedly won games for us this year and kept us close in a bunch of others. And yet my stance is that it’ll be a front office failure if Morris is not wearing another uniform by next week.

The KEEP MOOK crowd makes plenty of rational and respectable points in their favor. 1 Let’s go through some of them:

“He wants to be here.”

We’ve been spurned so many times by superstars rumored to be MSG-bound that now simply wanting to be here takes you off the market?

I don’t want to rudely dismiss this – of course we want guys that want to be here. But it’s not enough of a reason to keep him. Enes Kanter wanted to be here. Mario Hezonja wanted to be here. What role player wouldn’t want to be here? You get the opportunity to have a career-year for a rebuilding team (see: Mudiay, Emmanuel) while enjoying the city, the lifestyle, the business opportunities, the stage, the money James Dolan is willing to overpay you…a player could do worse.

“He’s built for New York.”

He certainly seems like a New York-kind-of-guy, but what exactly does “built for it” mean? Is it simply that he’s impervious to criticism? That he has the mental fortitude to ignore all the chatter coming through all forms of media? That he reminds fans of the 90s Knicks they fell in love with? That he has a tough, no-bull**** attitude? That he gets in guys’ faces and racks up techs?

I’m fine with wanting guys that are “built for New York,” whatever your definition, but we’re not ready to prioritize that yet. If this were 2021 and we had a team closer to playoff contention, I could get on board with this argument. But it’s not, so I can’t.

He’s one of maybe three guys that make the Knicks watchable.

He’s been great. The Knicks have often been desperate for offense, and more times than not, Mook’s come through. But this season isn’t about wins or being “watchable.” Trust me: I like seeing the Knicks play well as much as anyone, but we – and especially the organization – need to sacrifice short-term enjoyment for long-term success. This season is about rebuilding, which often means going against your heart and making difficult decisions in the interests of stockpiling assets and developing young talent. Speaking of…

I just want to be a part of helping these young guys grow.”

Part of a recent quote from Morris himself, and honestly, I LOVED it. This is exactly what you want to hear as a fan. But then I thought about it.

Who exactly has he helped grow to this point?

We have no way of knowing what happens behind the scenes. Was he a reason for RJ’s resurgence prior to getting hurt? Is he talking Knox through his sophomore slump? Does he deserve credit for Randle’s improved play? We heard about his role in the players’ only meeting, and if I were a betting man, I’d guess his impact through one-on-one conversation is purely positive. The FO surely sees what he brings in this regard and should consider it when deciding whether or not to move him.

But what about the growth that manifests itself on the court? Who has played better thanks to the presence of Marcus Morris?

RJ’s rookie season has been a roller-coaster, like most are. Frank’s season has been a roller-coaster, like every Frank season is. Mitch’s season has been a roller-coaster and, in my opinion, a disappointment. Kevin Knox, who shares Mook’s position, came out like a flamethrower in October (12 PPG, 52.4% 3P, 61% TS) and has since fallen off a cliff. His best game this year – 17 on 6-8 shooting in 20 minutes vs. MIA – was only possible because Morris didn’t play. In fact…

Kevin Knox

Season Averages: 7.1 PPG, 3 RPG, 37.2% FG, 6.5 FGA, 18.8 MPG
Without Morris: 2 8.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 35%, 8.1 FGA, 22 MPG

RJ Barrett

Season Averages: 14.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 39.3% FG, 13 FGA, 31.2 MPG
Without Morris: 17.7 PPG, 6 RPG, 43% FG, 13.8 FGA, 33 MPG

While you may disregard the counting stats – “Duh, more minutes equals more points” – the fact remains that without Morris, two of our most important young players get more reps and more scoring opportunities. And in Barrett’s case, Mook’s absence has resulted in improved play.

Has anyone’s play improved as a result of Mook’s presence in the lineup? Any of our young guys? Zo? Dot? DSJ? Frank? Mitch?

I realize the unfairness of this argument. Improvement, especially noticeable improvement, doesn’t happen overnight. Throw in the coaching change and the other drama that’s surrounded the team, and it’s unreasonable to expect Morris to have rookies and sophomores playing the best basketball of their careers. However, DeAndre Jordan came into some drama last year, and you saw an immediate, noticeable impact on Mitchell Robinson, so it’s not unrealistic to expect something tangible by now.

Taking it deeper – does Morris’ style of play lend itself to the development of young talent? If you were playing GM and needed a veteran to aid in the development of your young core, would Marcus Morris be a name on your list?

The answer is an obvious no. He spaces the floor, which in theory should benefit guys like DSJ and Barrett, but other than that he’s a shoot-first ball-stopper who (in tandem with Randle) often dominates entire possessions and transforms teammates into observers.

  • He’s averaging 1.4 APG, a worse than reputed blackhole Bobby Portis.
  • His A/TO ratio is negative.
  • His AST% in 2nd-worst on the team, only ahead of Mitch.
  • Julius Randle gets criticized often for selfish play, for missing the open man and/or refusing to pass. According to NBA.com, Randle passes the ball 45.4 times per game in 32 minutes. In those same 32 minutes, Morris passes the ball only 29 times! Again, fewer than Bobby Portis (and Portis plays only 20.8 MPG).

(I could go on, but instead… here.)

On the other end he does what he can, but is it enough to turn down future draft capital? His Defensive Rating this year is 114, better than only four Knicks and tied with defensive stalwart Kevin Knox.

Point: Ricky Rubio is the sort of guy you bring in to shepherd future cornerstones; Marcus Morris is the sort of guy you bring in to get buckets.

You’re likely thinking one of two things right now: numbers don’t tell the whole story, which is true, and I’m a Mook hater writing a Morris hit-piece, which is false. I don’t aim to tear him down. He’s been incredible. I had no idea he was capable of such prodigious scoring. But for me, the “development” argument doesn’t hold water, and the numbers / eye test support that. He is a scorer playing for a multi-year contract who takes minutes from Knox, Dotson, Barrett (if you want him at SF like I do), and Iggy (who most of us want to see), so I can make the argument that moving him will actually aid in the growth of our young players more than keeping him would.

You can’t trade him just to trade him – what, you’re gonna give him up for a couple second-rounders that most likely won’t amount to anything anyway? Not worth it.”

Yes, worth it.

I’m going to assume most of the KEEP MOOK contingent would jump ship if they knew a first-rounder was coming back. And to those who wouldn’t…I don’t know what to say. Godspeed.

What surprises me is that anything less than a first becomes an automatic NO for so many. My guess is it has something to do with the notion that, contrary to popular belief, he COULD be part of future plans. I mean, why not?

Because he’s on a one-year-deal, and if Mills and Perry were to lock him up to a new multi-year deal this summer, they themselves should be locked up and sentenced harshly.

2021 is the target. We know this. The FO is not doling out guaranteed money that impacts the Summer of Giannis. That’s why all but one of the contracts signed this past summer have outs for July 2020, and the one that doesn’t – Randle’s – has an out just in time for Free Agency 2021.

Marcus Morris makes $15 million dollars this season. He’s at the absolute top of his game. Is he taking a paycut? NO. Is he settling for another one-year deal? NO. Would he sign something similar to the non-guaranteed Year 2 deals that guys like Payton and Portis signed? NO. Why would he do any of that?

According to Basketball-Reference.com, he made $28.7M over the first eight years of his career. Add in the $15M he makes this year, and we’re at $43.7M over nine-years. He’s about to get three-year offers that exceed his nine-year earnings, giving him the opportunity to more than DOUBLE his fortune with the biggest payday of his life. This offer WILL NOT come from the Knicks, which means Morris is gone one way or another.

If you love someone, you have to set them free…but not for free. There is no rational reason to keep him past the trade deadline if he’s leaving this summer.

Noah Vonleh had a career-year with us last year; we kept him past the deadline; he took Minnesota’s money and we were left with nothing to show for resurrecting him.

Emmanuel Mudiay had the best season of his career with us; we didn’t move him at the deadline (though I doubt many executives were clamoring for him); he went to Utah and has played well enough that NYK beat writers are writing articles about him.


Smart business says you field offers for Mook and take the best one. Doesn’t matter what it is. A project + a couple seconds? Done. Just a couple of seconds? Cool. Have to eat a bloated two-year contract (ending 2021) to get the best deal? Fine, where’s my bib?

Far too many think second-round picks are worthless. They’re not. Seconds can be packaged to move up in a draft, or to move into future drafts, and once in a while, seconds become stars. How many contenders rose to that status, in part, because they cashed in on second-round picks? A second-rounder helped turn the Warriors into a dynasty and helped the Raptors upend that dynasty. A second-rounder led the Boston Celtics to the 1-seed in the East a few years ago and then became the centerpiece in a trade for a superstar. A second-rounder is the best player on the Denver Nuggets. A second-rounder is the second-best player on a Bucks team currently on pace for 70 wins. A second-rounder has the Indiana Pacers, whose star just returned from injury, firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Second-rounders give the Clippers a bench that could beat most starting lineups. A second-rounder is most likely your favorite current Knick.

Point: even the 60th pick in the weakest draft of all-time is better than nothing…which is what we’ll be left with if we don’t trade him.

Fans liking Morris enough to want to keep him makes sense to me. Wanting to sign him to a multi-year deal also makes sense, though less.

What makes ZERO sense is keeping a guy through the trade deadline that A) takes minutes and opportunities away from the youth, B) plays a style that’s not conducive to player development, C) might hurt your lottery odds in a year that isn’t and shouldn’t be about wins, D) would fetch the best return of all Knicks trade candidates, and E) will likely leave this summer anyway.

He needs to be moved. It’s simply what’s best for everyone, including those that would hate to see him go.

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