His reward for doing so? Getting benched a month into the season.
When Frank Vogel trimmed the rotation to get Talen Horton-Tucker some more run, Morris and Wesley Matthews were the two casualties. They went from veteran cogs on a title team to out of the lineup altogether starting Jan. 30 against the Boston Celtics.
As someone who saw firsthand how his teammates’ roles changed throughout the playoffs, Morris understood the decision-making process. That didn’t make the outcome any easier, as he told Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register:
“It’s my competitive nature to play, and same with guys like Wes — when he wasn’t playing; emotional, just like me,” Morris said. “At those times, you just have to work on your mind and remember there’s a bigger picture at the end of the tunnel, just like it was last year. It might not make sense now. But when we’re holding up the trophy at the end, it will all make sense.”
Two weeks after that decision, though, Anthony Davis went out with a calf strain, and Morris was back in the rotation. It turned out the break might have been good for him, too. Morris’ shooting percentages have jumped substantially since re-entering the lineup; he was shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 30.8 percent on threes through January, but is up to 45.0 percent on field goals and 35.9 percent from three since then. Those numbers have gotten even better since the All-Star Break.
The Lakers deliberately stockpiled depth, knowing it would be more necessary than ever during the condensed season following almost no offseason. But it’s hard for any individual player to admit they aren’t at their best. Morris wasn’t early on, he got his rest, and now he’s exactly the player the Lakers hoped they were re-signing.
Morris has stabilized the Lakers as a starter without Davis and LeBron James available, to the point where Dennis Schröder has been advocating for a pay raise for his power forward, and Morris has credited part of his success to having a consistent role.
But that’s not the role he’ll be playing moving forward. Davis is due to return shortly, and even on a minutes restriction, will eat into the Morris’ time at the 4. James will return after that, further crowding the forward rotation, and Morris could find himself back on the bench just like he was at the start of February.
Then again, roles have a habit of changing quickly on this Lakers team. It happened to Morris last year when he was a bit player before being thrust into the starting lineup in the second round, and it’s happened again this season. He knows the drill, and he has been willing to play his part in service of the greater goal.
Vogel will have a harder time cutting Morris’ minutes now than at the beginning of the year because of his quality of play, but those are good problems to have. Whatever happens, Morris hasn’t let his emotions negatively affect his contributions to the team. The Lakers have needed everything he’s given. Even with James and Davis back, Morris’ production is still valuable.