Suns general manager Ryan McDonough declared Markieff Morris one of his team's two best players four months ago. He gave Morris and twin brother Marcus a joint contract extension 10 months ago.
Welp. The Suns sent Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Pistons in a salary dump Thursday, according to Yahoo Sports. The Suns received a 2020 second-round pick — and a large chunk of the required cap space to continue their push to sign LaMarcus Aldridge.
The move makes basketball sense, on its surface. Morris was the lesser of the twins, and Bullock and Granger were not going to be contributors. All three were stuck on the bench in a packed and very good frontcourt rotation.
Moreover, the Suns have made real roster improvements this offseason. Tyson Chandler represents everything this team was lacking down the stretch last season: a leader, a terrific defender and an elite rebounder. Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin should be an upgrade on bench shooting guard minutes from Gerald Green. T.J. Warren now will have more time to develop and could be an excellent scorer.
And Aldridge is an important, worthwhile player for this franchise to chase. Landing him would immediately upgrade this team to a legitimate Western Conference contender. The decision to extend Brandon Knight despite his lackluster play after a trade probably was the right move, given the fairness of the deal and the likelihood that Knight bounces back when he finds his rhythm with Eric Bledsoe.
All of this is to say that the Suns' brass has done a great job of finding and developing talent. That talent is what put the Suns in this position to contend for Aldridge, even after it seemed as though only the big boys of the NBA world (Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets, particularly) had a chance.
But Thursday also reaffirmed jilted point guard Goran Dragic's point. "I don't trust them anymore," Dragic said in February, before the Suns even traded him to the Heat.
That was about a very different situation. Dragic's trade demand came as a result of the combustible three-headed point guard idea that imploded last season in Phoenix. The Slovenian was coming off a career-best year in 2013-14 and felt disrespected when the Suns gave a large contract to point guard partner Eric Bledsoe and also added point guard Isaiah Thomas in a sign-and-trade. Phoenix had three very talented young point guards on good contracts — and ended up having to trade Dragic and Thomas because of the locker-room tensions.
There were good reasons to trade Marcus Morris. He and Markieff face felony assault charges in a strange incident involving a man who purports to be their mentor but whom the Morris twins claim not to know. Markieff also criticized Suns fans for their support after a loss in February, while Marcus got into it with coach Jeff Hornacek on national TV.
McDonough showed frustration with that in an April radio interview.
"It was a frustrating year for me, in terms of the twins, because I think a lot of their behavior — I don't 'think,' I know — a lot of the behavior overshadowed their on-court performances," he said on Arizona Sports 98.7 AM.
But this offseason runs parallel to the moves that set up last season. Markieff Morris surely will not be happy that his twin brother, with whom he shares a tremendously close bond on and off the court, is gone. The Suns also have been shopping Bledsoe, particularly after re-signing Brandon Knight, the second point guard who they brought in from the Bucks to replace Dragic and Thomas. Even on the coaching front, Hornacek's agent went out of his way to clarify that his client was not not interested in the Iowa State head-coaching job this offseason.
These things don't sit well with players, who are human beings with human emotions. They are professionals, yes, but even professionals want to feel valued and respected. And every action adds up. And every action is seen by players around the league.
The Marcus Morris trade can be justified if they get Aldridge. That signing requires even more salary unloading, and Markieff Morris would be the obvious trade bait — even though, from a basketball perspective, Markieff is essentially a younger, smaller version of Aldridge on a substantially cheaper contract. Markeiff would not take kindly to having his brother traded for nothing and then being asked to take a spot on the bench. It's hard to imagine him being thrilled about playing another game for the Suns.
But what if they don't get Aldridge? As the four-time All-Star is preparing to meet with teams a second time, Phoenix and San Antonio reportedly are in the lead for his services. The Spurs can sell him on their roster talent — they'd be the favorite to win the 2016 championship with him — but so can the Suns.
But the Spurs can sell a culture and tradition. They have treated their players with as much respect as any team in the league, and the result has been consistent sacrifices made by players who wanted to play for coach Gregg Popovich and with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest. The Suns, at best, still are figuring out their identity under McDonough, Hornacek and president Lon Babby.
Continuity would help.
"Little things like that are why teams like San Antonio, or teams that keep their teams together for a while, just kind of innately know what everybody is doing," Hornacek said in September about the Morris twins' joint contract.
"These guys have such a bond between them that we felt we had to find a way to keep them together and the synergy would only continue to grow," Babby said, via the same Arizona Republic story.
The Suns are continuing to grow. They have had a banner offseason, with or without Aldridge. On paper.