The 2023 NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone, but it got me thinking about the Marcus Morris trade, one of the biggest deals the 213 era Clippers have made. As someone who was vocally against the deal at the time and has been far from the biggest Marcus Morris fan over the years, here’s a look back at the deal and how my thoughts on it have changed over the years.
The Trade Itself
The Clippers Sent Moe Harkless, 2020 1st Round Pick, 2021 1st Round Pick Swap Option, and Detroit’s 2021 Second Round Pick to the Knicks and Jerome Robinson to the Wizards
The Knicks Sent Marcus Morris to the Clippers
The Wizards sent Isaiah Thomas to the Clippers and Issuf Sanon to the Knicks
What’s Happened to the Pieces
Marcus Morris – Morris didn’t play great for the Clippers in the 2020 regular season, but was hot from three in the playoffs despite the Clippers’ bubble collapse. He was then re-signed to a four year, $64M deal by the Clippers and has been with them since. Over his 3.5 seasons with the Clippers, Morris has played in 183 games, 155 of them starts (he didn’t start for a while in the 2021 season due to Nic Batum’s play, but has not ceded the starting role since) as well as 32 playoff games (all starts). Next year will be the last year of his deal.
Moe Harkless – Harkless played 12 games for the Knicks, 10 of them starts, and was solid enough. In the 2020 offseason, he signed a deal with the Heat, but didn’t play much for them, and was traded mid-season to the Kings. Harkless played 26 games for the Kings, 20 of them starts, and brought some competent defense, but still no three-point shooting. He re-signed with the Kings in 2021, and played 47 games for them last season, with 24 starts. Last summer, he was traded several times, and ended on the Rockets, at which point he was waived. Harkless hasn’t played yet this season and could still be picked up, theoretically – he has played 96 games since the Clippers trade, with 57 of them being starts.
Jerome Robinson – Jerome, the Clippers’ prized 13th pick in the stacked 2018 draft, played 21 minutes for the Wizards down the stretch of the 2020 season, received his largest and most consistent minutes to date. He wasn’t especially good, but did look something like an NBA player. Unfortunately, after entering 2021 as a potential rotation player, Robinson was awful, and was consigned to the end of the bench for most of the season until he was waived in April. Robinson currently plays as a starter for the Santa Cruz Warriors, and is playing ok – but still can’t make threes. Turning 26 in just four days, Jerome could possibly still appear in the NBA, but all of the upside is long gone.
Isaiah Thomas – Thomas was almost immediately waived by the Clippers. HE did not play again in the 2020 season, and played just three games for the Pelicans in 2021 on a 10-day deal. He signed 10 days with the Mavs and Lakers (four games total) in 2022 before latching onto Charlotte, who he played 17 games with down the stretch. So far, he has not played in 2023.
Issuf Sanon – Sanon has not come over to the NBA, and is playing for Prometey in the Latvian-Estonian league. He’s still just 23, but it seems unlikely he’s an NBA player. Sanon’s rights are now owned by the Rockets.
2020 1st Round Pick – The Clippers’ 2020 1st rounder ended up as the 27th pick, and was used by the Jazz in a draft-night trade to select center Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike has played in just 56 games over the past three seasons, and while he’s still young-ish, has not really shown much. He seems likely to move on this summer, but whether he gets another NBA deal is unknown. Notable NBA players drafted after Azubuike include Jalen McDaniels (28th), Desmond Bane (30th), Tre Jones (41st), and Isaiah Joe (49th), but not Daniel Oturu, who the Clippers confusingly drafted at 33.
2021 1st Round Pick Swap – Did not convey, as the Clippers had a better record than the Knicks.
2021 Detroit 2nd Round Pick – Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was selected with this pick by the Thunder, which ended up at the 32nd spot in the draft. JRE has played in 77 games with the Thunder, with 54 of those appearances being starts. He just returned from a lengthy ankle injury and is a key player for the play-in hopeful Thunder off the bench. JRE looks to be a solid rotation player with room for more as a stretch big man. This pick, notably, was one before the 33rd pick, which the Clippers bought to select Jason Preston. Notable players after this pick include Herb Jones, Ayo Dosunmu, and Jericho Sims.
Every recap of the trade and all the rumors leading up to the deal (for all of the “Clippers’ front office never leaks” talk, there was a hell of a lot of smoke of the Clippers’ interest in Morris) mentioned a few things about Marcus Morris: his shooting, toughness, and two-way play. The Clippers had been starting Moe Harkless at forward next to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, and Morris’ shooting and size was seen as a big upgrade over the defense-first Harkless.
Reading between the lines, the Clippers thought that they needed a third scoring option behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. There were certainly concerns about Lou Williams’ and Montrezl Harrell’s ability to stay on the court on defense, and regarding Pat Beverley and Ivica Zubac being able to provide enough help on offense. Marcus Morris was seen as the 3rd guy, a consistent offensive threat who would not be able to be played off the court on the other end. He was regarded as more than just a three-point shooter, but a legitimate scorer and shot creator in his own right.
Finally, there was a unique subplot to this trade, in that it was consistently framed as a way to keep the Lakers from trading for Morris. The Lakers were excellent this year (they ended up winning the bubble championship), but the thought was they needed Marcus Morris more than the Clippers. The Clippers acquiring Morris was seen as a huge win, not even for what he brought to the Clippers, but for what he wasn’t going to bring to the Lakers. Rarely is a trade so explicitly talked about in regards to preventing a rivals’ move, but that was certainly the case here.
My Thoughts At the Time
Here’s what I wrote in the 213 Hoops Roundtable after the trade (with a grade of B-): “The best argument in favor of the Clippers trading for Marcus Morris was keeping him away from the Lakers, who need his talents far more than the Clippers do. That said, while that game of keep away has value, it’s not enough to justify the trade on its own merits. I do think Morris could help the Clippers. He’s a much better shooter than Moe Harkless, and you can never have enough shooting in the modern NBA. The Clippers also didn’t pay a premium for him – while I’m still not sure if I’d even rather have Morris over Harkless straight up in some matchups, the rest of the assets the Clips gave up were only moderately valuable. That Pistons 2nd rounder could be quite valuable, but it’s still just a second.
My main issue isn’t really Morris’ play in a vacuum, or even what the Clips gave up for him. It’s that I don’t think he really answers any of the Clippers’ issues. When the Clips offense has struggled this year, it’s been from stagnation and lack of movement, not lack of shooting or even shot creation. Morris, one of the most shot-happy and ball-stopping players in the NBA, does not help on that score whatsoever. Similarly, the other big issue for the Clips has been intensity and consistent effort, and while Morris is a “tough guy”, his actual effort waxes and wanes on any given night. Just ask Celtics fans on what the difference was between “good Mook” and “Flaskdad” (seriously, look it up). Harkless was inconsistent, especially offensively, but Morris will be no better in that regard.
In the end, this was a fine trade. The Clippers got a solid player (he’s a lot worse than Harkless defensively, but plays a position of bigger need, so it works out), and didn’t give up too much for him. I just don’t think it was the right move to make to truly move the Clips closer to a championship. And, if Morris’ comments from last week are biasing me somewhat, well, they were pretty horrid.”
In the “The Lob The Jam The Pod” episode after the trade, I reiterated those thoughts for the most part. I was really unconvinced that his skills would be of much value on the Clippers, and that while his three-point shooting and spacing would help, his ability to create mid-range jumpers at acceptable efficiency was not that useful in general, and particularly not next to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. I hoped that he would be staggered with the bench to help with shot creation, but was fearful he would take shots from better options.
Where I was Wrong
While Morris has taken too many midrange jumpers at times, he’s never been the kind of drain on the offense I was fearing. Especially in his first year or two there were always a couple midrange jumpers that Morris would take that probably could have gone elsewhere, but rarely was it anything more than irritating. When he has played with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, he has deferred. In the three years with those two, he has averaged 9.2 shots, 10.2 shots, and 10.7 shots, with almost exactly half of those coming from three. The only year he took a lot more was 2022, when Kawhi didn’t play and PG missed half the year. Generally, he has known his role on offense – spacing the floor from three with occasional jumpers or closeouts – and filled it well.
Despite his age and injuries, Morris has also been a bit of a stalwart for the Clippers, playing 5,134 minutes in his Clippers tenure. The only two Clippers to log more minutes in that time have been Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson (around 5500), with Paul George and Terance Mann also in the 5100-ish range. Morris was not just a rental, as feared, and while the 4 year, $64M deal the Clippers signed him to is not positive value, he has given the Clippers a lot of minutes over the years.
Where I Was Right
I don’t like to toot my own horn (truly), but I feel like I more or less nailed this one. Morris has given the Clippers a ton more shooting than Moe Harkless, and has legitimately hit big shots for this team. He has, however, given the Clippers almost nothing else. His defense has, for most of his tenure, ranged between “below average” to “not awful”. His rebounding has been woefully below part. Morris’ playmaking for others, as expected, has been near non-existent. The shot creation has not mattered outside of the 2022 campaign, which was a lost season. His size has meant he hasn’t gotten picked on defensively to the same extent as small guards like Lou or a Trae Young, but he really has, for the most part, been a one-dimensional three-point shooter. A good one, but that’s all.
Something that hasn’t been talked about much since the trade has been “the toughness”. This Clippers team collapsed in the bubble, and while much of that group is gone, the Clippers of the Kawhi-PG era have never been particularly gritty. Morris has barked and growled and gotten technical fouls and ejections, but none of that has seemingly translated to a team mentality. Too often, he’s been one of the Clippers most liable to not give 100% effort on a mid-season game against a poor opponent, a mentality that has cost the Clippers far too many regular season wins. That personal toughness just has not made much an impact, at least a noticeable one. If anything, Morris’ attitude has probably been a negative on the Clippers.
From an asset perspective, the trade itself was a fine one. There were excellent players (including guys much better than Morris) available with both the 2020 and 2021 picks, but neither of the guys actually selected has given the Clippers’ cause for regret. Marcus Morris has given the Clippers thousands of minutes over the years, most of them competent, and has generally fit in well next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. I doubt the Clippers have any misgivings over this deal, if they’ve even thought about it in the past few years.
My thoughts, several years later, are that the concerns I had about the Clippers’ front office not necessarily knowing what was best for the team (or not having the ability to stand up to their stars and coaches) have grown. The move for Morris was the first of a now annual tradition of deadline moves to add pieces around PG and Kawhi. The following year was Lou Will for Rondo (awful), in 2022 was Norm Powell and RoCo, and 2023 has seen numerous additions. While I’ve liked some of the moves and the Clippers have hit on the margins as well as with reclamation projects, the issues on the roster that were present in 2020 remain – lack of a true 3rd guy, an old and unathletic roster, and lack of interior scoring. The Clippers have continued to kowtow to their stars’ demands, mostly for aging point guards.
In the end, I do think the Morris deal was a failure, in that the Clippers have not made it past the Western Conference Finals, Morris himself has never been more than “fine” for the Clippers, and the shot creation and toughness he was supposed to bring have not really translated. Still, it’s played out in a very different way than I expected.
We don’t know who else the Clippers could have picked up for that trade package they made for Morris, whether at the 2020 deadline or that summer at the draft. The roads not taken are interesting to think about, but impossible to truly speculate on. Still, it’s interesting to re-consider the Morris deal in light of the moves made after, and on how his Clippers career has progressed to this point. Many criticisms of Morris now are not about him, but about his continued role in the starting lineup and overall importance to the rotation after he’s been superseded by other players in ability. Those coaching failures don’t reflect the trade itself, but do perhaps shine a light on some of the organizational flaws that the Clippers have, and their sometimes confusing thoughts on what makes the team successful. Hopefully the Clippers make a run this postseason, and Marcus Morris can finally make the impact the Clippers always dreamed he could.