It seemed like just a matter of time before the Phoenix Suns traded Markieff Morris following an offseason of unrest from the power forward and more of the same during the 2015-16 campaign. The franchise did just that Thursday.
Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania of The Vertical first reported the news, and the Washington Wizards later confirmed it, adding DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries and a 2016 protected first round draft pick would be heading to the Suns.
Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reported that the Wizards called Morris' former coaches and teammates prior to the move and "believe he'll fit in and have something to prove." Castillo also said the Wizards were "looking for a jolt and young frontcourt piece" and noted that the 26-year-old Morris' prime aligns with that of the rest of the team's young core.
The trade was made official Thursday, but Morris had his eye on an exit as soon as the Suns traded his brother Marcus to the Detroit Pistons this past offseason. Both Morris brothers signed contract extensions with Phoenix before the 2014-15 season, but that didn't stop the franchise from parting with Marcus.
Marcus was not particularly happy to be sent to the Pistons at the time, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
Everybody knew how bad I wanted to play with my brother. Phoenix knew. For them to trade me without consent or telling or anything like that was kind of like a, I would say slap in the face, because of the contract I took from those guys and the money I took from them. That was kind of a slap in the face.
The problem for the Suns wasn't as much Marcus' reaction but that of Markieff, who was still on the roster. He made his opinions perfectly clear during the offseason, per Keith Pompey of Philly.com:
One thing for sure, I am not going to be there. If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. …
I've got to show up. No question. You can't do that. I will be a professional. Don't get me wrong. But it won't get that far. … I'm going to be out before then, should be.
The Suns did not acquiesce to his trade demands before the season, but rumors popped up once again after then-head coach Jeff Hornacek elected to keep him on the bench for the Suns' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in early December. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported the Houston Rockets were interested in the forward after Morris experienced his first benching via coach's decision since he was a rookie in 2011-12.
Things got even uglier for the franchise and Morris when he threw a towel toward Hornacek after he was taken out of a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 23. As a result, the forward was suspended for two games.
What's more, Morris and teammate Archie Goodwin had an argument that "escalated into a shoving match" during a February loss to the Golden State Warriors, per ESPN.com.
Morris and the Suns turned in a disastrous first half of the season and were 14-40 at the All-Star break. On Monday, Wojnarowski discussed trade rumors and what the Suns were looking for around that time:
Multiple teams who have made pitches for Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris suggest a first-round pick hasn't been enough to engage the Suns in trade talks.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has been pursuing a package that includes a younger player and a first-round pick, league executives said. The Suns are motivated to honor Morris' desire for a trade—and have no intention of bringing him back next season—but teams are starting to think the Suns could hold onto Morris past the Thursday trade deadline without a deal that brings back a player of value with a first-round pick.
It may seem like a high price, but talent has never really been the question with Morris, especially after he turned in a career-best campaign in 2014-15 with 31.5 minutes, 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per night.
The 26-year-old appeared to have turned the corner, although he has not been as efficient from the field or the same defensive force this season and is averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Interestingly, John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM in Phoenix worried about motivation from Morris after the former Kansas Jayhawk discussed a potential trade during the offseason:
If the Suns think he is going to bust his butt for them they are sadly mistaken. He has a four-year contract, so he is no longer motivated by the need for a deal. He does not want to show Phoenix any love. He wants them to know he is not motivated.
This is personal to Markieff; he felt the trade of Marcus was a slap in the face to him and his brother. And he feels that the Suns should have known this was coming, that he wouldn’t be happy playing without his brother.
Any lingering drama with Morris is likely in the rearview mirror after this trade for Phoenix, but it still lost a promising forward who seemed to grow more comfortable on the court with more experience in 2014-15. He opened up the offense with touch from mid-range and the ability to score on the low block, and his contributions on the boards proved critical in the strong Western Conference.
Alas, the Suns are now left wondering what could have been if Morris continued the ascension he demonstrated last season in a Phoenix uniform.
As for the Wizards, the beneficiary of the Suns' decision to trade Morris, this move is an excellent fit as they try to assert themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Nene Hilario has been banged up all season, forcing the Wizards to deploy Jared Dudley as a pseudo-stretch 4 despite the fact he's quite undersized (6'7", 225 lbs) to fill that role. Otto Porter Jr. is beginning to pay dividends as a 2013 lottery pick, but there's no question Morris (6'10", 245 lbs) brings much-needed size to the rotation.
Morris could well start right away at power forward thanks to his combination of height and ability to spread the floor. Such a move may result in Dudley sliding to a more natural spot at the 3, with Porter coming off the bench.
The new Wizard will also be playing a position he's accustomed to, as opposed to the adjustment Dudley has had to make, and stands to benefit from the complement of a dynamic backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Defensive effort is still an overall concern for Washington, though. The 23-28 squad ranks 26th in points allowed per contest, so Morris has to buy in on that end of the floor if the Wizards are meant to make a big push after the All-Star break.