For the first time in a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions, doing it on the strength of their All-Stars LeBron James, who was named as the Finals MVP, and Anthony Davis. But they weren’t the only reason why the Lakers won the franchise’s 17th championship. Throughout the season and playoffs, Los Angeles was questioned about who their third-best player was next to James and Davis, with players like Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and Rajon Rondo mentioned.
The team showed throughout their title run the answer is more than one player, as the team’s supporting cast of veterans, young players, and reclamation projects stepped up when it mattered most.
One important player in the Lakers’ rotation is Markieff Morris, who began the season with the Detroit Pistons but was picked up by general manager Rob Pelinka and the front office on the buyout market to help the team during the playoff run. Morris had to make a lot of adjustments, from taking on a reduced role and learning the Lakers’ system on the fly to taking a pay cut, signing with Los Angeles for $1.75 million for the rest of the season and giving back $4.5 million in guaranteed salary to the Pistons in the buyout.
It was a gambit that paid off, with Morris playing in all the Lakers’ playoff games, averaging 5.9 points, three rebounds, and one assist in 18.4 minutes, shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Now, Morris can call himself a champion, and will gain interest from multiple teams as he rejoins the free agent market as a veteran big man who can score, shoot, and defend.
Here are some teams who should make calls to try to acquire Morris this offseason.
3. Boston Celtics
The Celtics were one of the teams who were reportedly interested in acquiring Morris’ services in February when he completed the buyout with the Pistons. A veteran big man who can defend other bigs and shoot well from the outside will definitely find suitors in free agency, but this is especially true of the Celtics. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston struggled to contain Miami Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo, particularly in Game 6 where he erupted for 32 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists to send the Celtics packing.
Daniel Theis was the Celtics’ only big man who received heavy minutes as the series went on, and Morris will be an upgrade over Theis, especially as a scorer and an outside threat. Morris, whose brother Marcus already played for the team in the past, would give the Celtics another veteran who can not only score, but can also be used to help defend the talented big men that they are sure to meet in the playoffs next season like Adebayo and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. The 31-year-old is also one of the few big men who can be acquired without spending a lot, as his previous contract with the Pistons was a two-year, $6.5 million deal.
2. Toronto Raptors
During their run to their first championship, the Raptors boasted one of the league’s best frontcourts with former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and rising star Pascal Siakam. This summer, however, the 2019 champions could lose two of those big men, with Gasol and Ibaka being unrestricted free agents this offseason. Gasol is reportedly considering signing with Barcelona back in Spain where he began his professional career, while Ibaka is expected to have multiple suitors in the free agent market. Should Gasol leave the team and play in Europe and Ibaka takes a hefty deal to play elsewhere, Morris would be a good contingency plan for the Raptors.
Toronto was also one of the teams reportedly interested in acquiring Markieff Morris when he was bought out by the Pistons earlier this year. He may not be able to replace the production of two players, but like Gasol and Ibaka, he is a big man with championship experience who can shoot and defend other bigs. Like the Celtics, the Raptors will also likely face the likes of Adebayo and Antetokoumnpo in the later rounds of the playoffs, and having an extra defender who is experienced and can also spread the floor can only help them remain in the top tier in the Eastern Conference.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Aside from the lack of a clear third-best player next to James and Davis, another question the Lakers faced at the start of the playoffs was the team’s questionable 3-point shooting. Morris was one of the reasons why that concern was during the course of the team’s title run. Morris, who has averaged 34.5 percent from 3-point range for his career, shot a sizzling 42 percent (29-of-69) from beyond the arc for the Lakers, helping space the floor for their two All-Stars. Aside from that, the 31-year-old also helped guard opposing big men for stretches to take pressure off James and Davis.
These are just some of the reasons why Markieff Morris has been a great role player for the Lakers, and why the team should re-sign him. The Lakers signed him for just $1.75 million for the rest of the season, and the team’s front office should be commended for striking that deal in the middle of the season. However, they need to spend more to make sure he remains with the Purple and Gold, as Morris will likely get better offers once he hits the free agent market. With another big man in Dwight Howard also becoming a free agent and expected to gain interest from multiple teams, Los Angeles will need to get creative and maximize their mid-level exception (which is reportedly around $9.26 million) to make sure that their veteran big men will remain with the team next season.