Marcus Morris is exactly the sort of player that most rebuilding teams would trade away. Turning a one-year free-agent signing into a first-round pick at the deadline is, by typical seller standards, a major win. But, of course, these things are never that simple when the New York Knicks are involved.
The idea of trading Morris in exchange for the sort of package that is likely to be offered -- a late first-round pick and a contract that lasts beyond this season -- doesn't appeal to the Knicks, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. The Knicks reportedly want to avoid dipping into their 2020 or 2021 cap space. Instead, members of the front office would prefer to keep Morris ... unless he was part of a package for a "star-type player."
The protection of their cap space seems like an odd priority at least for the summer of 2020. While limiting 2021 salaries makes sense given the loaded free-agent class that is coming, 2020 has a weak group of free agents that the Knicks should have little trouble affording. As it currently stands, they have only around $51 million in guaranteed salaries for next season against a projected $118 million cap thanks to the team-options and non-guarantees they included in most of the contracts signed last summer. Locking someone in at Morris' current $15 million salary wouldn't preclude them from pursuing other players, or even potentially Morris in a reunion. Yet they have still set the bar extremely high on a potential Morris deal if they truly expect to receive a "star-type player" for him.
It is unclear who exactly the Knicks might have in mind as such a player. There are no true star-caliber players available on the trade market. The closest thing to one that they have been linked to is former All-Star center Andre Drummond, who wouldn't make sense for a variety of reasons. Whether that desire represents delusions of grandeur or a simple lack of interest in trading Morris is uncertain, but Morris himself has made his interest in remaining with the team clear.
"That was the reason why I made the decision to come here, going back on the decisions I made,'' Morris said. "I enjoy this organization. I enjoy the players they got here and I want to be here long term."
Morris has been arguably the team's best player, though he has missed New York's past four games with a neck injury. Considering how well he has played, there is at least a theoretical argument for keeping him for the long term. The downside to doing so is the impact that it has on the other young Knicks. New York's three best young players are Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett in some order. Ideally, they should be starting at center, power forward and small forward, respectively. Morris' present interrupts that.
It's one of the many reasons a Morris trade makes sense. Plenty of contenders would love to have him as a 3-and-D wing, and the Knicks probably have more use for the younger, cheaper player they could get with a first-round pick than for the 30-year-old Morris as they attempt to rebuild. The Knicks, apparently, disagree, and through either impatience or incompetence, now seem to be leaning toward making a long-term investment in a player on a different timeline than their most important young assets.