WASHINGTON — If you would have told me last week the Wizards would bolster their front court depth with a supremely talented knucklehead hours before the NBA trade deadline, I would have put my money on either Dwight Howard or DeMarcus Cousins.
Instead, the Wiz sent a protected first round pick along with Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair to the Phoenix Suns for Markieff Morris, who comes to D.C. with some off the court baggage. But the 26-year-old power forward also brings some much needed athletic size (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) to the increasingly important stretch-four position.
Make no mistake: the Wizards are trying to save their season. This was a “win-now” move designed to give them a boost for the stretch run toward the postseason. Those playoff hopes took a blow Wednesday night in Chicago when the Wiz were dropped by a short-handed Bulls squad that already sits four games ahead of the Wiz for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards have been flat and inconsistent all season, and much like last year’s Nationals, we’re waiting for a hot streak that doesn’t feel imminent.
That’s why there’s not much risk involved with the Morris deal. The Wizards gave up a couple of expiring contracts and the pick is protected. Morris has three years and modest $24 million remaining on his contract, which doesn’t take the Wiz out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. Morris’ off-court issues may raise concerns, but the change of scenery — aided by the presence of former Suns teammates Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley — might be just what Morris needs to finally and totally realize his potential.
Though his numbers don’t yet reflect it, Morris could be just what the Wizards need too. He showed some flashes in Tuesday night’s win over the Pelicans (especially that slam on Anthony Davis, who was held to just nine points two days after going off for 59 in Detroit) but he’s mostly been a non factor so far.
Morris clearly needs some more time to get acclimated to his new surroundings, but the Wizards can’t afford for that learning curve to be as steep as it has seemed so far. Through four games, he’s got just 17 points in 88 minutes, hitting just 8-of-30 from the field and missing all six of his 3-point attempts. He’s looked completely lost and unable to find good shots, especially Wednesday night. There are only 26 games left in the season and this team needs a consistent scoring threat beyond John Wall and Bradley Beal, so it’s imperative Morris moves into the starting lineup and becomes “THE guy” at the stretch-four instead of the Wiz relying on “just guys” like Dudley and Drew Gooden.
If Morris stays out of trouble and start playing like the guy we saw on the way out of Phoenix (he averaged 20.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in the five games before the trade deadline), the Wizards might actually have the spark they need to not only make the playoffs but make a solid postseason push (especially if they see Toronto again). If he doesn’t, Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld will have some explaining to do at season’s end.
Here’s hoping Wittman can tap into Earl Watson’s mojo and get the most out of Morris. The Wizards’ season — and perhaps Wittman’s job — depends on it.