PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns left for training camp in Flagstaff on Monday afternoon as happy campers. Any concerns about forward Markieff Morris’ angry “trade me” words this summer appear to have been assuaged not only in recent conversations with general manager Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek but also by Morris’ tacit contrition when he met the media Monday.
Morris has changed his mind. He wants to play for the Suns, and the Suns are glad to have him.
“I want to be here,” Morris said Monday when asked point-blank if he still wished to be traded.
So that’s that.
The NBA fined Morris $10,000 for his critical tweets and comments in the weeks after his twin brother Marcus was traded to Detroit as part of the Suns’ strategy to set aside salary cap space to pursue free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, a well-considered move that only failed when Aldridge opted to sign with Tim Duncan and San Antonio. Morris told a Philadelphia reporter he was “not going to be there” in Phoenix this season.
The Morris twins played together at Kansas and the previous three seasons with the Suns, and Markieff seemed upset that the Suns did not keep him in the loop regarding their offseason plans.
“He’s certainly not the first, and he won’t be the last player to be upset with the front office,” McDonough said. “It happens. It is my job, first and foremost, to put the most talent on the floor we can and to give coach and his staff a group of players who work hard and play hard and have a chance to win a lot of games.
“If that ruffles some feathers along the way, so be it. As far as trades, there are a lot of discussions and maybe less than five percent of the trades discussed will get completed. We don’t pre-flight this with any of our players. We don’t run it by them to get their opinion. That’s not something we have done or something we are going to do going forward.
“I’m confident he’ll practice hard and play hard and be a good teammate and be a productive player. That’s my frustration with the whole thing — and I understand why his comments and behavior have overshadowed a lot of it — but from our perspective, he played pretty darn well last year.”
Playing without Marcus will not be an issue this season, Markieff said.
“I’ve gotten better every year I’ve been in the league, and I’m going to continue to get better, with or without my brother,” Markieff said.
The Suns have no reason to believe otherwise, although Markieff was one of the few players who did not participate in early pickup work that has been going on for the last several weeks.
Morris, 6-foot-10, is in a unique NBA subset, a power forward with 3-point range, and he seems to be just hitting his stride. His scoring and rebounding averages have improved in each his of his four seasons since being the 13th player taken in the 2011 draft. Morris averaged 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds last season while making 57 threes and shooting 76 percent from the foul line.
At times, he took over games. He scored 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting in a 107-100 victory over Cleveland last Jan. 13, overpowering Kevin Love so much that the Cavs kept Love on the bench the entire fourth quarter of that game. Nothing worked.
With Morris at full throttle and newcomer Tyson Chandler adding a veteran’s calming presence along with point guards Erick Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, the Suns believe they can contend in the rugged Western Conference.
The Suns took the pulse of the locker room clubhouse regarding Morris this summer and found no issues.
“It was pretty much unanimous that they want him back and realize how valuable he is to the team,” McDonough said. There was not a dissenting voice Monday.
“He loved his brother; that was it,” point guard Eric Bledsoe said. “You’d be mad, too, if … I respect him 100 percent.”
“Kieff is a terrific guy. I guess people got misled by that. He is a team guy. He’s like my brother. You can pretty much say anything to him, and he is not going to take offense to it. He’s to me one of the best power forwards in the league. On some nights, he holds the team down himself. He’s just a wonderful person.”
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has seen all sides of the story. Hornacek was traded twice during his 14-year NBA career, the first as part of the package that brought Charles Barkley to Phoenix before the 1992-93 season.
“Being an old player, no,” Hornacek said when asked if there were bridges that needed to be rebuilt.
“A lot of things happen. If you are ever in a locker room with a bunch of players, guys will give each other crap for a day or two, and that’s not even thought about again. I don’t think there is any problem there whatsoever.”
New teammate Chandler, a 7’1″ rebounder/rim-protector whose presence should give Morris plenty of help inside, leant a veteran’s perspective.
“This isn’t the first time a player has had miscommunication with management, and it’s jot going to be the last time it happens,” Chandler said. “In our league it always seems to work itself out, and I feel like this won’t be any different.
“I’ve always thought he was a great player, just going against him. I still feel that way. I think all this stuff will be behind him.”