Now that the Clippers’ 2020 season has reached its disappointing end, 213Hoops will work through the roster player-by-player for our “Exit Interview” series. Today’s exit interview features starter Marcus Morris.

Basic Information

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 218

Position: Forward

Age: 31

Years in NBA: 9

Key Stats: In 19 regular season and “seeding” games for LAC, played 28.9 minutes per game and averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while shooting 42.5% from the field and 31% from three. In 43 games for the New York Knicks before being traded, averaged 19.6 points per game and shot 43.9% from three.

In 13 playoff games for the Clippers, played 29.8 minutes per game while averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists, shooting 50.5% from the field and 47.5% from three. Notably, shot 63.3% from deep in the Clippers’ 7 playoff wins and 31% from deep in their 6 playoff losses.

Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent this off-season, coming off of a one-year, $15,000,000 contract last season. The Clippers have Morris’ non-bird rights, meaning they can give him a contract for up to 120% of his prior salary–$18,000,000–with a maximum length of 4 years and maximum raises of 5%. This means his largest possible contract is 4 years, $77.4 million.

Expectations

It took a long time for Marcus Morris to end up with the Clippers. Remember, he nearly joined the team as a free agent last summer before instead agreeing to terms with the Spurs, then backing out of that agreement to accept a larger, one-year deal in New York.

The Clippers instead helped the Miami Heat acquire Jimmy Butler by absorbing Moe Harkless’ contract, and got a first-round pick for their troubles. That pick became part of the record-setting Paul George package, while Harkless was eventually flipped–along with Jerome Robinson, the Clippers’ 2020 1st round pick (27th), swap rights for the Clippers’ 2021 1st round pick (unlikely to convey), and Detroit’s 2021 2nd round pick–for Morris at the trade deadline. It wasn’t a back-breaking cost for the Clippers, but simply signing Morris in free agency would have allowed them to hold on to two of the team’s few remaining draft assets.

Morris’ primary contribution to the Clippers was expected to be his three-point shooting. While his 44% from deep in New York this year was clearly an outlier, he’s been a solid 37% shooter from deep over his career and had consistently been more efficient in the playoffs, a major upgrade over a non-shooter in Harkless who had notoriously been left alone to miss open corner threes in prior playoff runs with Portland. Additionally, Morris is capable of creating his own shot off the dribble–although given his often poor shot selection and tendency to be a ball-stopper with the Knicks, that was a bit more of a fear than positive expectation.

Despite Morris’ reputation, the Clippers didn’t figure to improve much defensively by acquiring Morris for Harkless, who is a very good defender in his own right. But the two are different–Harkless is quicker and lankier to contain speedy guards, while Morris brings a strength advantage that’s more effective against bigger forwards. It could pretty easily be argued that Harkless is the better defender in a vacuum, but was slightly more redundant than Morris on a team that already had Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard to throw at opposing guards.

Then, there’s the non-basketball stuff. From a propensity for trash talk and flagrant fouls to his sexist comments after a game this season, Morris can cause distractions. While Doc Rivers repeatedly emphasized that he liked the “edge” Morris brought to the team–and I agree that good teams need supporting players who bring toughness and physicality–it cost the Clippers at times. In game 6 against the Dallas Mavericks, Morris took himself out of the game with a first-quarter flagrant foul, and in game 5 against Denver, Nuggets forward Paul Millsap credited a hard foul and trash talk from Morris with inspiring the momentum that forced a game 6.

Reality

For a player who received as much dramatic consideration as a potential x-factor for the Clippers, both from his supporters and detractors, Morris’ performances for the team were ultimately relatively quiet, and remarkably predictable. He didn’t emerge as the team’s third-best player as some expected due to his offensive output in New York, but he stayed far away from making a negative impact that others feared with selfish offensive play.

Offensively, Morris was even more efficient than expected in a very limited role–over half of his playoff shot attempts were from three, where he made a lethal 47.5%, including 60% from the corners. He went from taking 4.8 pull-up two-point jumpers per game before coming to the Clippers to just 2.8 in the playoffs. Most of the time, it felt as though Morris’ low-quality shots came late in the shot clock, where his ability to get off a comfortable contested look was (relatively) welcome. Overall, the 1-2 questionable plays he made each game may have stuck out for anyone who was watching with worries about his shot selection, but they were no more egregious than any other player.

Defensively, he made a massive impact in the first round as he surprisingly emerged as the team’s best option against Mavericks star Luka Doncic. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Doncic shot just 8-23 with Morris as his primary defender, scoring 20 points and, significantly, only finding one assist as Morris’ ability to use his strength to stay in front of Luka’s drives enabled the other Clippers to stay home on shooters. But in the second round, Morris was a non-factor defensively, struggling with crafty veteran Paul Millsap, who baited Morris into fouls, overpowered him in the post, and punished him for helping with open threes. In total, tracking data shows Millsap with 30 points on 10-19 shooting against Morris.

Then, of course, there’s the aforementioned non-basketball stuff. While each mistake was unnecessary and unhelpful, they both ultimately feel like minor sub-plots to me. Morris took himself out of game 6 vs Dallas, but the Clippers won the game anyway–if they’d lost, he would have likely been my primary culprit. Similarly, while his extracurriculars with Millsap may have inspired Millsap to fight back in the third quarter, the combination of LAC’s cold shooting, DEN’s hot shooting, and poor coaching all played a bigger role in the team’s game 5 collapse… and their game 6 collapse… and their game 7 collapse. It’s fair to call Morris’ antics foolish and bad process, but it seems extreme to blame a technical foul in the second quarter of game 5 for the rest of the series, given the far more obvious and egregious factors that directly produced those results.

Lastly, I want to touch on the win/loss splits for Morris. He shot 63% from deep in the team’s 7 playoff wins, but just 31% from deep in their losses. I think some folks find that number and think they’ve found a “gotcha!” stat–that when the Clippers lost in the playoffs, it was because Morris went cold. But that’s more than a little short-sighted. These numbers actually point to the lack of shooting LAC got from the rest of their role players. Nobody is going to get hot every single night (imagine if he had shot 63% in all 13 games instead of just in the 7 wins–it would make him the best 3-point shooter of these playoffs by a wide margin, an unreasonable expectation). But Morris was, for the most part, the only Clipper role player who ever got hot. If he wasn’t hitting, nobody was. That says a lot more about Landry Shamet (35.7% from three in the playoffs and just 22.2% in the second round) and Lou Williams’ (23.5% from three in the playoffs and 14.8% in the second round) inability to make floor-spacing contributions than it does Morris’. You’ll take a 47.5% average from three any day.

Future with Clippers

Since Morris changed teams as a free agent last summer to sign his current one-year deal, the Clippers don’t have his bird rights–but they have his non-bird rights (non-bird: 1 year, 20% raise; early bird: 2 years, 75% raise; full bird: 3 years, any raise), meaning they can pay him up to $18,000,000 in starting salary next season. For a non-star veteran in a summer where money is tight around the league, that will be more than enough for Morris. And for the Clippers, who have other needs to address and just the taxpayer mid-level exception to add replacement talent, letting Morris walk would mean foolishly losing a positive (if imperfect) contributor for nothing. The team is well above the cap and would not be able to sign an equivalent player (for example, Jerami Grant–who has a player option–and Jae Crowder are both likely free agents this summer, but the Clippers have no viable avenue to pursue either as a Morris replacement).

The question with Morris seems to be less about whether or not he’ll return, but rather what exactly his new deal will be. Right now, LA has the potential for flexibility in 2021 with both Leonard and George hitting free agency, but it’s almost a no-brainer that embracing a bloated payroll with multi-year role player contracts is worth maximizing the upcoming season of two superstars in their prime (and hopefully convincing those stars to re-sign). Hopefully, the lack of spenders in free agency this off-season will leave the Clippers competing with just mid-level exception offers for Morris, meaning that his new deal could look closer to 3 years, $36 million than a heftier 3/45 or anything nearing his aforementioned maximum possible deal of 4/77 (which would be an absurd overpay).

I fully expect Marcus to be back as the Clippers’ starting power forward next season, probably with a larger regular-season offensive role (as George and Leonard’s minutes and shot attempts go down compared to what we saw in the playoffs) and a very similar playoff role to 2020.

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Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

16 Comments

  • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

    Great write up, as usual. I also don’t buy that he cost us the Denver series simply by pissing off Millsap. If that’s your margin for error, then we truly are a bad team. Considering the lack of structure in our offense and his undefined role outside of standing in the corner and occasionally taking on a tough defensive assignment, I think Mook did as best as can be. Beyond the tough guy antics, he was good for one 3pt early in the shot clock but his shot selection was better than advertised. Doc just barely tried him at the 5 in small ball lineups, which was baffling. I hope he gets more run at the 5 next year.

    I know Flom and others weren’t happy with the acquisition but given the alternatives at the deadline, I think he was a fine pickup. I mean look at what Iggy is (not) doing as a relatively washed vet despite his team’s run.

    I prefer shorter than cheaper. 3/$36M would be a bargain but even going up to 3/$50M would be fine.

    • Robert Flom Robert Flom says:

      He’s a fine player. In our roundtable on the trad, I gave it a B- (in retrospect it would be a C probably). He played well for the Clippers and mostly didn’t hurt him.

      But he also didn’t help them that much, and didn’t address their actual needs. So the trade remains whatever at best.

  • Avatar osamu6238 says:

    He took $15M one year deal as like a bloated 1-year “flexibility” deal with the Knicks, instead of a 2-year $20M contract with the Spurs. I think his value is much closer to the $10M annual salary than the $15M-$18M annually, but maybe someone will look at that playoff percentage and get excited and you have to pay him more.

    I really liked the offense he brought to the Clips, and really made it tough for teams to double off of that position like they could with Moe. Also I felt like the team was much less reliant on Lou/Trez. If they’re planning on moving on from Lou and/or Trez, then definitely will need Morris.

    • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

      I just don’t see where an offer higher than like 3/32, which should roughly be the full MLE, comes from. Very few teams have money this summer, and the Clippers wouldn’t facilitate a sign-and-trade unless they got good value back. So 3/36 with LAC feels like a safe and mutually agreeable value.

  • Avatar Minion94 says:

    Probably a good trade chip if he’s signed to a longer deal if the situation presented itself.

  • Avatar John Maclean says:

    If the Nuggets can push the Lakers or even better knock them off, I think the Clips brass, players and especially fans will be in a much better head space. But if the Nuggets were just a scrappy upstart we choked against there needs to be some serious soul searching. No one will fear us and with load management it’s quite possible that a healthy Warriors, Lakers, Nuggets and Mavs could all finish above us in the seeding next year. And portland, Utah and Phoenix are no slouches either so the specter of spiraling to a 6th, 7th or 8th seed might be enough cause for concern to consider a total rebuild now. It would be humiliating but we could probably pry the 2nd pick away from the Warriors for possibly PG and most certainly Kawhi. If there’s a generational talent like Luka or Ja available at #2 this move shouldn’t be off the table. Having said that I hope we just lost to a great young contender. GO NUGGETS!

    • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

      Nuggets have already proven their legit even if they end up loosing the series.

      Vogel benching his obviously ineffective center. With someone else had the balls to have done that…

  • Avatar Thretch says:

    Someone said before the playoffs “if the Clips get unexpected contributions from a random non-213 player” they’ll be in good shape. Mook was the only guy who came even close to that. Maybe he had a few behavioral brain-farts; but he more than made up for them … or at least more so than anyone else on the team except maybe Kahwi and Zu (who each consistently played to expectations).

    So he gets a passing grade and hardly anyone else does.

  • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

    I haven’t tracked the trades thrown out but assume y’all are talking about some package including Zu and Bev for Jrue? Who soaks up the 30 mpg at center and an can defend Joker/AD/Porzingis? I like Jrue and he helps with our offensive flow and point of attack defense, but feel like a trade like that leaves us with more holes.

    I’d rather try and get a competent 3rd wing and pray that Doc can utilize him to help contain wings and guards like how Kawhi and PG “contained” Murray for the most part. Then get the backup big to Zu so our bench units don’t hemorrhage points.

    • Avatar chogokin says:

      I don’t want to trade Zu, and I haven’t seen any specific rumors about who we’d get in return. I was just saying that at least one of Zu and Bev would prob have to be shipped out if the Clips are looking to get anybody significant (e.g. Jrue) in return. Depending on who the Clips would get in return I might be ok with shipping out Zu (but it’d have to be a really good haul), but more than anything, I’d really rather just tinker a bit around the edges (e.g. let Trez leave, get a real backup C) and hire a new coach.