There are certain boxes that must be checked before you can sit at the city of Detroit's lunch table. The whole glitz and glamour scene, yeah, that's not us. We can go that route but prefer to take the path less traveled in any journey towards success. The city itself has been the butt of too many undeserved and uneducated jokes which, in turn, made the residents of Detroit and the surrounding area fiercely loyal and suspicious of outsiders. We can spot impostors a mile away so don't waste our time....we got shit to do. If you talk tough, you better be able to back it up because we'll find out fast.
If all the major U.S cities walked into the cafeteria, Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas and the like will probably sit together. Chicago and New York are going to share the same table. Seattle and San Francisco will have talking points. So, who has the balls to sit at Detroit's table? Philadelphia is a pretty good bet.
Headed to Detroit
The Phoenix Suns had an outside shot to sign free agent LaMarcus Aldridge in the summer of 2015; in order to do so, they had to massage their salary cap numbers a bit. In what could be described nothing other than a salary dump, Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger were sent to Detroit for a measly 2020 second round draft pick. The Suns made their pitch but eventually, Aldridge ended up in San Antonio.
The trade received little national coverage but did come with an interesting sub plot.
Both Marcus Morris and his twin brother Markieff, had recently signed contract extensions with Phoenix at a seemingly discounted rate with the agreement that for at least the foreseeable future, the Morrii would be wearing the same color jersey.
When Marcus was shipped to Detroit, clearly this violated the wink, wink, agreement the Morris brothers had made with the Suns. Needless to say, they weren't happy.
"Everybody knew how bad I wanted to play with my brother," Marcus Morris said at the press conference welcoming the new forward to Detroit . "Phoenix knew. For them to trade me without consent or telling or anything like that was kind of like a, I would say slap in the face, because of the contract I took from those guys and the money I took from them. That was kind of a slap in the face."
When Piston fans started to look into the history of their new addition, the one constant characteristic that seemed to follow Morris throughout his career was the idea that he needed a major attitude adjustment. Would he be a cancer in the locker room? How would he act without his brother in the same zip code?
Morris, a Philadelphia native, is clearly rough around the edges but in the eyes of Stan Van Gundy, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The trick was to harness that Philly raised attitude into a positive for the Pistons. Plus, Van Gundy and Detroit offered a scenario that Morris had yet to experience: consistent playing time.
Heading into the season, the jury was still out on what Morris brought to the table and how, exactly, he was going to help Detroit.
The Pistons surprisingly started the season 3-0. After an ugly loss to the Indiana Pacers in their fourth game, a couple red flags popped up - including the hideous play of the Piston bench. It was clear Van Gundy needed to tinker with the lineup to try and stagger his starters' minutes while simultaneously adding scoring punch to the bench.
SVG's answer was to let Morris ride with the second unit while the remaining starters took a breather. This would play out for the first time in the team's fifth game - on the road, against the Phoenix Suns (yes, the same organization that Morris clearly held a grudge against).
If the scouting report was right and Morris was a hot head with an authority problem, surely it would culminate in the Phoenix desert. He'd be hell bent on proving a point to the franchise that sent him packing -- in hopes of signing another player.
Well, the scouting report was wrong.
Morris finished with a team high 39 minutes and scored 20 points; most importantly, the Pistons won 100 - 92.
Now and moving forward
Marcus Morris surpassed any expectations that were given to him before the season started. With the increased minutes, he registered career highs in points (14.8), rebounds (5.1) and assists (2.5).
Being able to put the ball in the hoop is one thing. Owing a skill set that is capable of putting the ball through the hoop in a variety of different ways is something completely different. Morris subscribes to the latter.
When the offense broke down throughout the season, the ball was given to Morris -- especially when playing with the second unit -- in hopes that he could turn nothing into something. Isolation Morris, many times, became a default offense. The mid-range shot is something of a lost art in the modern NBA but that's the exact place where he thrives. Contested or not, his 12-18 foot jump shot is the staple of his arsenal.
Morris drilled 108 three pointers on the year at a respectable .362% clip. Catch and shoot from a penetrating Reggie Jackson was seen consistently and he even dabbled in some off the bounce attempts.
One of the more under-appreciated facets to Mook's game became his play-making ability. He's constantly under control and doesn't try to do too much, and he can take advantage of an over-eager defense to set up his teammates. At 6'9" and a lean 235 pounds, he can overpower smaller defenders and scoot by the slow footed forwards while finishing at the rim.
A similar sequence of events happened throughout the year in which Morris would grab a defensive rebound and start the fast break on his own. Not needing an outlet pass to put the fast break in motion put immediate pressure on a back-peddling defense. Often, Morris would create a scoring opportunity for himself or find a trailing teammate.
As the league continues to get smaller and faster, it's important now -- more than ever -- to own mix and match players. Guys who can switch on defense while adding assorted tools on offense are keepers. Morris is one of those guys and his best days are still ahead of him. Owning a team-friendly contract, there is no reason those days shouldn't be in Detroit.
With Tobias Harris and growing Stanley Johnson on the roster, there is a very good chance Morris could get pushed into a 6th man role. Against the Cleveland Cavilers in the first round of the playoffs, the Pistons experimented with a center-less (no Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes) lineup and found some success; Morris could definitely play a positive role in that scenario.
Fitting into the culture
Players like Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Rasheed Wallace have entered folk hero status in Detroit. The explanation is simple: the people of Detroit respected their no-nonsense approach to the game; it was something they could relate to. From the outside, their "attitude" was deemed a problem but it was that same attitude that 1) became contagious to their teammates in a positive way and 2) ended with a championship parade.
We are far too early in the Marcus Morris era to put him in that category but his background and play certainly fit the bill. The physicality of the 80's and 90's is gone which led to far too many milk drinkers in the league. It's good to have a guy like Morris, one of the true genuinely tough guys, on our side.
It's probably safe to assume that Morris gained his edge from growing up in Philadelphia. It's probably also safe to assume he'd feel right at home playing at St. Cecilia.