Longtime NBA starter Marcus Morris doesn’t mind coming off the bench for Clippers
When Marcus Morris made his season debut off the bench Wednesday, it was no prelude to a speedy return to the Clippers’ starting lineup.
Instead, it’s the start of a different role than the one envisioned for the 6-foot-8 forward after his four-year, $64-million deal in free agency. Yet, it’s also one Morris greenlit after watching the team’s early-season results while a knee injury sidelined him for eight games.
“It wasn’t more of a, ‘I want to come off the bench,’ It was more of a, ‘I want to help the team in any way possible,’” Morris said after scoring 12 points in 18 minutes in a victory at Golden State. “And if that’s coming off the bench, I didn’t want — we have a good relationship — that [coach Tyronn Lue] couldn’t say that to me or pose that question to me.
“In hindsight, I was fine with either [role], but I have seen how well those guys are gelling with the first unit and I thought I could help the second unit with scoring, with leadership, things like that. I just told him, ‘Hey, if that is what you want to do, I’ll go along with you.’”
During their discussions, Lue said Morris reasoned that Nicolas Batum, who had started in Morris’ place, “provides the passing that we need in the first unit and spotting up and shooting.” Batum’s nearly 46% shooting on three-pointers through his first nine games has helped starters outscore opponents by 10 points in 14 minutes together per game.
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Playing alongside backup guard Lou Williams and Paul George — who typically plays with reserves for much of the second quarter as part of a strategy to stagger the minutes of George and Kawhi Leonard — would create matchup problems for opponents, Morris told Lue. It also could yield benefits defensively, helping break up three-guard bench lineups that have allowed opponents to shoot 50% — including 37% from deep — when Williams, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard play together.
Of course, Morris coming off the bench doesn’t mean he won’t be used as part of the closing lineup.
“Whatever it means and whatever it takes to win, that’s what he’s about,” Lue said. “It’s good just to see him do that. It takes a lot of character to make that call.”
Morris made that call in no small part because he feels secure in his standing with the Clippers after playing for five teams in nine seasons. Within the last 18 months, the Clippers repeatedly have demonstrated their desire to make him a central piece of future plans, first by trying to recruit him, unsuccessfully, as a free agent in 2019 before spending a first-round pick to acquire him via trade with New York last February.
Morris instantly became a starter with his new team, but with no guarantee he would reprise the role this season because of pending unrestricted free agency. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank called re-signing Morris the team’s top priority, and to secure his return the team committed to the largest contract of Morris’ career.
“The Clippers did me a favor by giving me what I have earned and what I have worked for; I am all team,” Morris said. “Whatever they need me to do, I am going to do it. If that’s coming off the bench, hey, I been starting for a long time in this league, guys know what I can do. So I am not here to prove anything to anybody, starting or coming off [the bench], I am here to help the team. The only thing I am worried about is the Clippers winning.”
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Wednesday’s victory, the first of two games against the Warriors in San Francisco, was the first time this season the Clippers’ (6-3) entire rotation was available, and Lue said he called “about six plays, and guys didn’t know where to go on the floor.”
Lue added: “That’s to be expected when you’re playing with different lineups and Marcus’ first game back.”
Last season, it took 33 games to reach that same full-health milestone.
“I felt great coming out there after four months,” Morris said.
At Golden State
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
On the air: TV: ESPN. Radio: 570, 1330
Update: After making all 25 free throws Wednesday, the Clippers’ 84.6% free-throw accuracy leads the league. They also lead the league by generating nearly 1.3 points per possession on spot-up attempts, and that efficiency has helped the Clippers produce a half-court offense that averages 1.03 points per possession, the league’s second-best mark, according to Synergy Sports.
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