This time last year, the Los Angeles Lakers were two games under .500, four games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and in need of some help in the front court, where LeBron James was carrying a heavier load than anyone coming off of a groin injury should have been.
The Lakers had hoped that help would come in the form of Markieff Morris, a gritty, 6’9” power forward with the ability to back defenders down in the post on one end and use his strength to play solid post defense on the other end. Unfortunately, Morris opted not to sign with the Lakers, and instead joined the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was in spite of the fact that, at the time, Morris was represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who also represents LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Morris is no longer a client of Paul’s, but when he was presented with an opportunity to play in Los Angeles again earlier this month, he took it, and on Sunday, he made it official by putting a pen to the paper. In his first media availability after shootaround on Tuesday, Morris explained his decision to sign with the Lakers after passing on them last year.
“This is the point of my career where I’m just trying to win,” Morris said. “I see that this team has one goal in mind. And who wouldn’t want play for the Lakers? Last year, there was kind of a lot going on ... I didn’t want the attention. I was trying to feel it out. At that time, OKC was the right fit for me.”
Markieff Morris is here at shootaround pic.twitter.com/a2ahdNkVfj— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 25, 2020
Morris said he nearly passed on signing with the Lakers, but things fell apart with another team at the last minute, and when he looked at his remaining options, he thought the Lakers were the “perfect spot.”
Now, Morris will have the opportunity to compete for a championship in the same city as his twin brother Marcus, who plays for the Clippers. Morris admitted (seemingly reluctantly) that his brother being in Los Angeles played a role in his decision, but make no mistake: Markieff won’t be going easy on Marcus if they see each other in the Western Conference Finals this season.
“That would be crazy, man,” Morris said of seeing his brother in the postseason. “Both of us want the same thing, so I know it’s going to be super competitive when we go against each other. Cut throat, and then eat dinner after it.”
Markieff said that he and Marcus have tentative plans of living together, which would make things a little more interesting. If Markieff wants bragging rights over his brother at those meals, though, he’s going to have to be a big part of the solution to the problems the Lakers have had against bigger wings this season, including Marcus’ new teammate, Kawhi Leonard.
Markieff isn’t a lockdown defender by any stretch of the imagination, but he will give the Lakers a toughness that they’ve been lacking inside by playing a slimmer Kyle Kuzma at the 4. On offense, he provides reliable shooting 3-point shooting at the forward position, which is a key ingredient to enjoying success on a team led by LeBron James, and an ingredient they’ve been missing.
A lot has been made about how Morris’ arrival will affect the rotation because the person that he replaced on the roster, DeMarcus Cousins, wasn’t playing due to his season-ending ACL injury. To Frank Vogel, though, Morris is just another piece to the championship puzzle, and he’s confident Morris’ skillset will make them more versatile on both ends of the floor.
“In the modern NBA, you really — in my opinion — you have a point guard, a center and you have wings, and he just adds to our depth at that position,” Vogel said. “All of our wings have slightly different skillsets with defensive matchups, offensive skillsets of what they’re able to do, and he just rounds us out a little bit more and adds that type of depth that could help us down the stretch and in some of these playoff series that we’re hoping to be in.”
Vogel downplayed how much Morris’ presence will impact Kyle Kuzma, saying that Kuzma will spend some time at both the 3 and the 4, and he also said that Morris could spend some time out on the wing. Over the course of his eight-year career Morris has never played the 3, but he said he’s willing to step up and do whatever the team asks him to do.
“It’s always hard to get acclimated with 25 games left, but these teams know what they want,” Morris said. “Me, personally, I’m just trying to be the X-Factor that we need. Whatever’s needed out of me, I want to come in and provide. That’s just where it’s at. However, they use me is how they use me.”
That being said, Morris said that he sees himself primarily as a 4, and he hopes that his presence will allow Kuzma to play his “natural position” at the 3. Whatever the case ends up being, LeBron James, plans to help him get settled in with new surroundings.
”We’re going to help him, and he’s going to help us,” James said. “We’re all ballplayers, and at the end of the day we all have one common goal and that’s to compete at a high level and try to get better every day, and that’s why he chose us. He believes that we have aspirations of something greater, and we’re happy to have him.”
Vogel said that Morris will be active for Tuesday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, but he doesn’t anticipate that he will play “a lot.”
“I may or may not get his feet wet, but he will be active and I’ll just feel the game out in terms of whether we get him in or not,” Vogel said.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. on TNT.