Trading Marcus Morris was the Best Move the Knicks Could Have Made

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Marcus Morris

Marcus Morris just played his way off the New York Knicks. For a change, that’s a plus for both the player and the perennially struggling team that’s offloaded so many underperformers and gotten nothing in return in recent years.

The Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers beat the NBA trade deadline in a deal in which New York received two picks in the 2020 draft and eighth-year forward Moe Harkless.

Losing Morris doesn’t have much of an effect on the Knicks despite him being their steadiest player his season. He was a candidate to test free agency in the summer and they were at least able to get some value for him via the trade.

Given what’s left on their roster, they won’t have to try very hard to tank the remainder of the season to lock down a top-three draft pick.

Marcus Morris situation was an ongoing drama for the Knicks

Marcus Morris’ status was the subject of considerable conjecture once it became apparent the New York Knicks, saddled with a 15-36 record, were not going to reach the playoffs for the seventh straight NBA season.

If that was a distraction, he didn’t let it show on the court. Morris was averaging 19.6 points a game in his first season with New York, shooting 44.2% overall and 43.9% from beyond the arc. His minus-2.9 in plus/minus was nowhere near the Knicks’ biggest problem.

Morris signed with the Knicks for one year at $15 million following two seasons as a Boston Celtic. By letting him go at the trade deadline, the Knicks landed the Clippers’ 2020 picks near the end of the first and second rounds to go with their own selection close to the top of the whole draft.

The reluctance of Steve Mills to pull the trigger on a Morris trade with the Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers is believed to have contributed to his firing earlier in the week. It’s likely that incoming president Leon Rose supported the deal, a signal that he already has a vision for rebuilding.

Moe Harkless comes back to New York

NBA trades are seldom simple because the teams must balance the books on player contracts for salary-cap purposes. In this case, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers brought in the Washington Wizards to round out the trade. The Clippers got Isaiah Thomas from the Wizards in exchange for Jerome Robinson.

Moe Harkless, who played his college basketball at St. John’s University, was tucked into the deal less for his ability as a small forward than for the transfer of an $11 million contract to the Knicks.

It was widely reported that the Knicks had hoped to pry shooting guard Landry Shamet from the Clippers in the deal, but Los Angeles wouldn’t let him go. It’s possible that the next Clipper that they land is none other than Marcus Morris.

Maybe the Knicks haven’t seen the last of Marcus Morris

Even while being put on the market as trade bait, Marcus Morris was in discussions with the Knicks on what it might take to do a new contract this summer.  He’s upped his value by playing well with the Knicks and has little incentive to sign a contract with the Clippers, who pursued him last summer, when he’ll likely attract interest from multiple teams after the season.

The Knicks will have money to spend plus something that other suitors might not be able offer: playing time.  Morris was getting more minutes with the Knicks than in his two seasons with the Boston Celtics and six of eight pro seasons before that. The idea of playing for a championship contender is always appealing, but Morris will have to weigh that against the possibility of being near the back end of the rotation.

That plus the fact he enjoyed his brief time in New York and is better than anyone else on the existing roster might be enough to lure him back, constituting a rare win for the Knicks.