Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

As the NBA trade deadline draws nearer, the New York Knicks should see how high they can sell swingman Marcus Morris.

Josh Benjamin

It’s NBA trade season, which means Marcus Morris could be on the move from the New York Knicks.

Sorry to burst your collective bubble, fans, but the front office really has no choice. As Ian Begley of SNY reported last month, team president Steve Mills‘ job is in danger barring a turnaround. New York is 7-13 since coach David Fizdale was fired, so don’t count on a lengthy winning streak that keeps Mills at Madison Square Garden.

This means if Mills wants even minimal hope of saving his job, he needs to sell high on Morris. There are plenty of teams looking to shed a heavy contract in favor of a smaller one, and Morris fits the mold.

It won’t be easy, but a Morris trade is the Knicks’ best-case scenario at this point. If Mills and general manager Scott Perry can sell high, all the better.

Deceitful statistics

On paper, Morris is having a fine season. He’s averaging a career-best 19.1 points per game and shooting an eye-popping 46.9% from three. He thrives in isolation and can score from practically anywhere on the floor.

Nonetheless, those numbers are highly misleading. Not to take away from Morris’ career season, but he’s benefitting from playing on a bad team, and at 30 years old to boot. It’s easy to look like a star when every other teammate is worse by comparison.

Of course, the numbers don’t lie. Morris’ career-high in scoring prior to this season was 14.1 points per game with the Detroit Pistons in 2015-16. This is also the first time in his career that he’s shot north of 40% from long range.

And if we look deeper, we learn Morris is far from an impact player. His VORP this season is a meager 0.4. He’s an absolute liability on defense, posting a defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of -2.2 on the year and -0.5 for his career. His win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) are barely above the league average at .106.

Long story short, Perry has his work cut out for him.

What to do?

Simply speaking, the Knicks don’t have many options regarding the Feb. 6 trade deadline. Best-case scenario, a lower-tier playoff team needing a scoring boost is willing to trade for Morris and also include a draft pick. I’ll tell you right now this is a pipe dream not even Mario and Luigi can fix.

Worst-case scenario, Morris draws little-to-no interest and the Knicks just let his contract lapse at season’s end. This would prove karmic for Mills and Perry. They went all-in on an offseason of signing Julius Randle and a bunch of role players as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned the Knicks for the Brooklyn Nets.

Nevertheless, there’s a middle ground and the Knicks need to take full advantage of finding it. This would be packaging Morris and other pieces in a deal for a star player with either an expiring contract or one willing to stay in New York.

Potential targets

Shams Charania of Stadium reported the Knicks checked in on Pistons center Andre Drummond, who can opt-out of his contract after the season. This would mean giving up on Mitchell Robinson‘s potential though, thus making a possible deal unlikely.

The Cleveland Cavaliers also provide an intriguing option in Kevin Love. Writing for The Athletic, Charania reported the former UCLA Bruin’s desire to play for a contender, something the Knicks are not. Still, the Knicks have plenty of cap space, not to mention draft picks to offer in any potential deal. Pairing Morris with a pick and someone like Bobby Portis could be enough to sway Cleveland.

But Begley reported Sunday that the Knicks are “opposed” to trading away first-round draft picks. This makes trading Morris for a star player even more difficult.

Therefore, the Knicks might have to show creativity at the deadline, for better or for worse. If they’re smart, they’ll take the temperature on other teams’ interest in Morris.

Final thoughts

Despite Morris being a good sell-high candidate, the reality is that he’s probably staying put. Marc Berman of The New York Post reported the Knicks are more likely to keep Morris all year unless they received a star-caliber player in return. Given management’s unwillingness to trade draft picks, a hard rebuild sans outside help looks likely again.

But as “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase once said, “Everybody’s got a price, everybody’s gonna pay,” and the Knicks should embrace this philosophy with Morris. A few Western Conference teams are just barely out of the playoff race and may be willing to overpay for Morris’ scoring prowess.

And to be completely honest, the Knicks would be cheating themselves in not selling high on Morris. The team has struggled for 20 years and things need to change regardless of if Mills is in charge next year.

This means becoming one with the times, fully committing to a proper rebuild, maximizing all assets, and, most importantly, figuring out a satisfying trade involving Morris. For that to happen, Mills and Perry better start working the phones.

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