February 7, 2020, 10:59 pm
The Clippers are not messing around. Their work in the summertime has forced them to behave as such, with no stone left unturned as they set their sights on an NBA championship.
Their Thursday afternoon trade of Derrick Walton Jr. opened up a roster spot, at which point it became a matter of who, not if, when it came to another transaction.
It was reported in the lead up to the deadline that the Clippers were looking for all kinds of help, from a big man to a playmaker to some depth at the forward spots.
It was the latter of those that ended up making the most sense for the Clippers, as they sprung quickly to acquire the recently-made-available Marcus Morris. By securing Morris in a three-team deal that cost them Moe Harkless, Jerome Robinson, a first-round pick, another first-round pick swap and a second-round pick, they not only upgraded their forward group but also boxed out the rival Lakers, who were also in on Morris in the final hours before Thursday’s deadline.
In terms of what they gave up, the Clippers are unlikely to be sweating all that much.
Robinson was far more sink than swim in his limited opportunities, and LA can no longer coddle players as they get their feet wet in the NBA. Robinson’s a volume scorer who’s not getting minutes and also shooting .338 from the field. The Clippers need more than that, and moving a long-term project like this is well worth the upgrade that Morris presents.
Specifically, the upgrade that Morris presents over Harkless. While Harkless offers more mobility and is probably a better defender, Morris brings strength and toughness that should play well in a group that’s already contrasting Kawhi Leonard’s stoicism with the mile-a-minute mouth of Patrick Beverley. What the Clippers lose in switchability they gain in grit, and Morris’ ability to check heavier players addresses an area that has given LA issues at times. Offensively it’s no contest, with Morris a legitimate scoring threat and one of the league’s better 3-point threats. If the Clippers can get him out of his isolation habits, it’ll be a fantastic fit.
If the Clippers were ever going to change their lineup due to matchup concerns, either now or in the postseason, Harkless was going to be the guy to head to the bench in favor of a better floor-spacer. That’s not a concern now and the team can get its rotation in order from here on out. Morris’ presence also takes some of the edge off those load management nights, giving the Clippers a better chance at victory even without Kawhi or Paul George.
As for the picks, the Clippers held onto their 2020 first in the George trade specifically to upgrade the roster this season. Mission accomplished. That pick swap for 2021 is unlikely to convey unless the world turns upside down, while that second-rounder might be a top-40 pick with the way things are looking in Detroit. Still, the Clippers landed a starting power forward without taking a sledgehammer to the rotation in a year where they expect to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Morris gives the Clippers the sort of player that will allow Doc Rivers to play up or down to opponents of any size, and his defense should hold up better now that he’ll be taking on the third or fourth option rather than face top scorers like he had to do in New York. That’s a good club to have in the bag just in case, though.
For Morris, who wanted a big deal in free agency and backed out of a two-year, $20 million deal with San Antonio to get $15 million from one season with New York, he’ll have a huge opportunity to cash in this summer. The Clippers are very much in the national spotlight and Morris will be present for plenty of key moments as the season stretches into May and June.
As long as he can accept more of a complementary role offensively, which he did in Boston for the most part, then the Clippers won’t have any complaints.
LA has to take every opportunity to improve in their championship window, and the chance to acquire Morris was one they couldn’t pass up.