PHOENIX, AZ — Markieff Morris has been, and can be, a very productive player.
But it appears to be too late for that here.
It’s time for the Suns to put the best face on the situation, make the best deal they can make, and move on.
The irony hits you like a blocked shot.
The guy who demanded to be traded this summer needs to be traded now.
Morris has talent, and the rest of the league knows it. You don’t average 15.3 points a game without it. You don’t torch Cleveland for 37 points and overpower Kevin Love so much that the Cavaliers kept Love on the bench the entire fourth quarter of that game here last January.
He could help someone in need of a power forward. Houston, New Orleans and now Utah have been linked to Morris in trade reports, and it’s time to find his market, even if the return isn’t what it might have been.
Morris has become a non-factor since sitting out of a Dec. 2 game against Detroit — and twin brother Marcus — with a sore knee, playing only 34 minutes and 45 seconds in the six games since.
Asked about his situation, Morris didn’t repeat the $10,000 mistake he made last summer, when he was fined by the league for saying he wanted out of Phoenix after Marcus was traded.
“It is what it is,” he said after the Suns’ 108-101 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. “Whatever decision they make, I’m fine with it. I’m supporting my team from whatever aspect they need me to support it from.
Cool or not, it’s clear the Suns need to find some return for a player who’s become an afterthought.
The Suns have proceeded without Morris for the last two weeks, and they appear more than willing to continue the trend. They’re 3-4 without him, about the same winning percentage as when he was getting starter minutes, and the new rotations promise more.
Jon Leuer has stepped into the starting lineup at the stretch 4 spot and done a lot of things well, as the Suns anticipated when they acquired him from Memphis this summer. They believed he’d be a nice fit in their more perimeter-oriented offense, and he has been.
Leuer has scored in double figures seven straight games, and he was the central figure in the third quarter run when the Suns blew open Sunday’s game against Minnesota.
In a three-minute stretch, Leuer had a 20-foot jumper, a breakaway slam dunk, a drive-and-dish assist for an Alex Len slam, a steal, another dunk on a lob from Eric Bledsoe with a hockey assist to Brandon Knight, and a 12-footer from the right side. The Suns turned a five-point lead into 13, and that was about that.
Leuer finished with 12 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes. Even when he got into foul trouble in the first half, the Suns made no move toward Morris.
Reserve forward Mirza Teletovic, a summer free-agent signing, has been effective off the bench, and after a slow start has made four or more three-pointers in six of the last nine games. With backup guard Devin Booker adding firepower, the Suns have been able to compensate for the loss of Morris’s 15-plus points a game.
It’s not all Morris, and NBA scouts know that. Some of it has to do with the way the Suns get their offense. With point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight pushing and penetrating to collapse a defense, the Suns’ wings are able to get good looks from the perimeter. Morris isn’t shooting well there, making only 28 percent of his three-pointers. Leuer is shooting 41 percent from three-point range. Teletovic is at 45 percent. Booker is at 71 percent. The numbers tell it all.
Read into Morris’s absence from the Detroit game what you will, but he’s played in only two game since.
Morris had 10 points in 27 minutes at Washington two days after missing Detroit, but since then has played only once. He’s been a DNP-CD three times, and he saw just seven minutes in Chicago in the second of back-to-back road games, the kind of minutes a deep bench player might see when his team is playing on back-to-back days. He missed Dec. 9 with a sinus infection.
The other 4s are giving the Suns more.
Now it’s time to get a return from the one who’s not.