Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Holding onto Marcus Morris Sr. past the trade deadline would be a failure of epic proportions for the New York Knicks.

Danny Small

The New York Knicks are not in win-now mode. Sure, that’s an obvious statement given the team’s paltry 14-36 record. The playoffs are a pipe dream and the front office needs to prioritize the future above all else.

Of course, this is a fraught situation considering the fact that team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have no certain futures in New York. There are so many layers to dissect with the upcoming trade deadline, but there is one player who the Knicks have to flip: Marcus Morris Sr.

Don’t let his gutsy performance in a Saturday night win over the Indiana Pacers change the narrative. He scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half and hit big shot after big shot to keep the playoff-bound Pacers at bay.

The dude can ball. No one is denying that.

However, when a team is bottoming out in the Eastern Conference with a player on a one-year deal who could bring back draft capital, there is only one option. The Knicks need to continue to add to their treasure chest of draft picks and Morris represents their best avenue to doing so in 2020.

According to multiple reports, Morris will likely bring back a late first-round pick. Lottery picks are the real jackpot for sellers at the deadline, but anything is better than nothing. Even if the return is a pick in 2021 or beyond, again, it’s better than nothing.

For what it’s worth, they already have an impressive collection of picks for the foreseeable future. In addition to all their own picks, New York has two first-rounders from the Dallas Mavericks (2021 unprotected, 2023 top-10 protected) and two second-rounders from the Charlotte Hornets in the next two drafts.

Adding another first-rounder to the mix—even if it is in the 20s—would give the Knicks a little more flexibility moving forward. The Knicks need to stockpile draft picks in preparation for their next big move.

There are two scenarios in which draft picks—aside from actually drafting a player—can be valuable: trading for a disgruntled star or moving up in the draft.

The Knicks missed out on Stephen Curry by one spot back in 2009. They weren’t “close” to putting together an enticing package for Anthony Davis in 2019 according to a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Would a late first-round pick have made the difference in trading up for Curry or acquiring Davis? Probably not, but it’s a lot easier to make those moves when a team is stocked with draft capital.

Look at how the Los Angeles Clippers were able to pry Paul George away from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They included two Miami Heat first-round picks (2021 unprotected, 2023 top-14 protected) as part of a massive package of picks and pick swaps. Both of those Heat picks are likely to fall in the mid-to-late 20s of the draft.

The Knicks already have two late first-rounders in their back pocket and there’s certainly room for more.

Culture Counterpoint

There’s one obvious counterpoint to the argument for trading Morris: culture. The veteran forward has been the team’s best player on the court, but he’s also been a leader in the locker room. Although he has his slip-ups from time to time, Morris is always front and center with the media after tough losses.

Moreover, he was the catalyst behind the players-only meeting on the day David Fizdale was fired. His strong voice and presence in the locker room can give the young guys on the roster an example of how to carry themselves as they grow and mature.

This all makes sense, but there’s a chance that the Knicks end up sacrificing a valuable pick for a little over two months of culture building. As noted earlier, Morris is going to be a free agent after the season and he should be in line for a lucrative contract. He’s putting up career numbers in points (19.4) and three-point percentage (43.8) this season.

According to a report from Ian Begley of SNY, there is mutual interest between the team and Morris in regards to a long-term deal in the offseason, but that is a dangerous road to travel down. A lot can change between February and July.

In fact, Morris ruffled feathers this past summer when he backed out of an agreement with the San Antonio Spurs to sign a better deal with the Knicks. Who is to say a similar scenario won’t unfold with New York on the losing end this time? After all, the NBA is a business and if another team provides a better opportunity and situation for Morris, no one would fault him for taking it.

Holding onto Morris will likely result in a few more wins here and there in the final months of the season, but it will be one more instance of the Knicks failing to see the big picture.

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