The Houston Rockets have been desperately searching for ways to turn around their disappointing season.
When the team got off to a 4-7 start, it fired Kevin McHale and went with J.B. Bickerstaff to lead the troops. One game later, Houston benched prized offseason addition Ty Lawson in hopes a move to a sixth-man role will help get him out of his current slump. When that didn’t happen, the Rockets reportedly put the embattled point guard on the trading block.
Now, sitting at 10-11 and barely clinging on to the eighth seed in the West, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is looking to shuffle the roster once again.
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Rockets have expressed interest in disgruntled Phoenix Suns power forward Markieff Morris.
ESPN sources say the Houston Rockets have trade interest in Markieff Morris, who was a DNP-CD in the Suns' narrow loss Sunday to Memphis
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 7, 2015
Morris has been looking for a ticket out of the desert since the Suns dealt his twin brother Marcus to the Detroit Pistons during the summer. In August, Markieff went public with his disdain for his current employer, per The Philadelphia Inquirer, which subsequently led him to be fined $10,000 by the Suns.
“One thing for sure, I am not going to be there. “If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. I don’t give a [freak]. I am not going to be there at all. That’s just what it is.”
Whether due to his unhappiness in Phoenix or just a mere coincidence, Morris’ numbers are down nearly across the board this season. His 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game are his lowest efforts since his second pro season while his 38.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.9 percent from three are the worst of his career. After being benched for the Dec. 6 clash with the Memphis Grizzlies and playing just seven minutes against the Boston Celtics one night later, it appears Morris will finally get his wish to leave Phoenix granted.
While a change of scenery could motivate Morris into becoming a solid role player, his addition doesn’t fix the Rockets’ biggest area of weakness: defense. Houston is currently 28th in points allowed per game (107.3), last in opposing field-goal percentage (46.8) and 19th in opposing three-point percentage (35.4).
Meanwhile, Morris is allowing 105 points per 100 possessions, tied for the second-best defensive rating of his career, via Basketball-Reference.com. Opponents are also shooting 14.9 percent better from three with Morris defending and 5.5 percent better overall, per NBA.com.
Like Lawson, Morris would also come to Houston with his share of off-the-court baggage. Both Markieff and his brother were charged with felony aggravated assault in April stemming from an incident that occurred in January. While Morey has never shied away from players who make the wrong kind of headlines, his track record with troubled players isn’t the greatest.
- Dwight Howard: Signed a four-year, $88 million deal with Rockets in 2013 after bad break-ups in both Orlando and Los Angeles. Averaging 16.9 points and 11.7 boards in two and a half years with Houston, but injuries and decline in production are signs he’s not a dominant big man anymore.
- Josh Smith: Signed with Houston after being released by Detroit. Contributed 12 points and six boards in 55 games. Signed with Los Angeles Clippers during the summer and is believed to be back on the trading block.
- Ty Lawson: Acquired during the 2015 offseason after two DUIs led to his exile from Denver. Averaging career-low in scoring (7.3 PPG) and his 4.3 assists are second-worst of his career. Benched in favor of 38-year-old Jason Terry and is now back on the block, as well.
Another issue with the Rockets’ quest to add Morris is the compensation. According to Stein, Houston is willing to include Terrence Jones in a potential Morris deal. While Jones has battled injuries throughout his career, he’s been an emerging two-way talent when he’s on the floor, and he’s one of the Rockets’ better shot-blockers. While his 111 points allowed per 100 possessions is especially bad this season, he’s had a defensive rating above 102 just once in his three previous campaigns. Conversely, Morris has never had a defensive rating lower than 104 in his entire career. Jones also improved his three-point shooting from 26.3 percent as a rookie in 2012-13 to 38.7 percent in 2015-16.
In fairness, Morey’s track record of getting the upper hand in trades should earn him the benefit of the doubt. He fleeced Oklahoma City for James Harden in the greatest robbery since Ocean’s Thirteen. He also nabbed a first-round pick for Omer Asik and found a taker for Jeremy Lin’s hefty expiring contract. Even though the Lawson deal hasn’t worked out so far, Morey didn’t give up much to acquire the former Tarheel, and the team could still net something worthwhile in a future trade down the road.
Still, if Morey is looking for someone who could help right Houston’s ship, Morris is not the answer. He’s in the first year of a four-year, $32 million contract and he doesn’t bring anything that the team doesn’t already have. At that price, the Rockets would be wiser chasing a player like Pau Gasol (owed $7.4 million this year, player option next year) or John Henson (owed $2.9 million this season, $12.2 million next season, decline in salary in the following three seasons), who would be both cheaper and better defensively.
There are plenty of ways for the Rockets to salvage their season. Desperation isn’t one of them.