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Report: Morris agrees to buyout with Pistons, Raptors have “expressed interest”

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According to the usual rumour mill, the Raptors may be in the game for recently bought out forward Markieff Morris. Does that make sense?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

First, the actual concrete facts: forward Markieff Morris has agreed to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons, which adds him to the list of available players to be added by other teams for ostensible playoff runs. This scoop comes to us from the Athletic’s Shams Charania, who tweeted the following:

Second, we get to the conjecture. Shams followed up the above tweet with an answer to the obvious next question. Where does Morris go next?

One has to assume the biggest teams in the buyout market this time around on the two Los Angeles squads — the Clippers and Lakers — along with the Bucks, who have made some major acquisitions there in the past, and, lo and behold, the Raptors too. As Shams suggests, at least one LA team is in the mix (with the other LA team already snagging a Morris brother); and Toronto apparently wants to at least see if there’s a deal to be made.

Is this what Toronto, or Morris for that matter, actually wants and needs? Let’s review.

Morris is a 30-year-old power forward listed at 6’8” and 245 pounds. He’s been in the league since 2011 after getting drafted 13th overall by the Phoenix Suns — one spot ahead of his brother Marcus. The twins actually played their first four years together before things fell apart in the desert — as always happens — and they were split up. From there, Markieff briefly looked to be the better of the twins. He helped the Washington Wizards become a bruising team in the East while Marcus joined the Pistons and clung on to post-season relevancy. By the 2018-19 season however, Markieff had been traded to the Thunder for a second round pick before free agency while his brother was signing a big money deal (relatively speaking) with the Knicks after a couple of strong seasons in Boston.

So far in 2019-20, Markieff has appeared in 44 games for the Pistons, starting in 16 of them. The team is currently 19-39 and in the midst of being stripped for parts though, so this is not entirely a badge of honour. Nevertheless, Markieff has averaged 22.5 minutes per game, putting up 11.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. He’s also shooting 45 percent from the field, a career-high 40 percent from three on a career-high number of attempts (4.3) per game, and 77 percent from the free throw line. While Markieff is likely removed from his defensive heyday — part of the reason he’s bounced around as of late — there’s still utility to be found in a forward known as a rugged tough guy who can shoot from three. It’s why his name has been connected to our favourite squad in years past.

So then, enter the Raptors. This point has been made elsewhere but Toronto could use a couple of types of players as they march towards the playoffs. One of those players is another playmaker — presumably a guard — who could take over some of the ball-handling and shot-creating duties for the Raps (if only to give Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet a break to finish the regular season). Another type of player is exactly the kind that Markieff Morris represents: a big man who gets after it on the boards and can take open shots without a conscience. It makes sense then that the Raptors are expressing interest, given their thinness up front and their lack of stout defensive rebounders. All they’d have to do is clear a roster spot (sorry Malcolm Miller) and they could offer the prorated minimum.

Now, can the Raptors promise Morris as big a role as he’d like to get? This part is trickier. Presumably Marc Gasol gets healthy and is the team’s starter. Serge Ibaka is the back-up centre. And of course, Pascal Siakam will see heavy minutes at power forward. A lot of what Morris theoretically brings to the table for Toronto is covered (and then some) by those three names, which means there are not a lot of minutes likely to come his way. (It’s why guys like Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have played a lot and then not at all — there are only so many frontcourt minutes to go around.) The Raptors can offer him the right dollar figure and they can put him in an extremely competitive situation, but he might not get to play much at all.

So does Morris want to wave a towel as Toronto hits it off in the post-season or does he want to get into the game? My bet is on the latter — Morris is nothing if not still confident in his ability to get into the game, any game — which suggets his favouring of the Lakers makes some sense. All we can do now is wait and see.

Update:

As predicted, the Lakers did indeed get their man. Markieff is going to Los Angeles to join LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers.

When viewed through this lens, it makes sense that he’d choose LA over Toronto — the role and the minutes just do not appear to be there for Markieff.

Ah well, on to the next!