The Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus, are eagerly anticipating the Phoenix Suns decision on picking up their fourth year options, due by October 31. Or, they should be anyway. Knowing the Morrises, they likely are more worried about how many minutes they get this season because they assume the pickup of their options is a "no-brainer".
Yet, it's not that simple.
The brothers, despite being identical twins, play different positions on the court but often put coaches at odds on how to play them together because their skill sets overlap to an extent.
Markieff Morris, at 6'10" and 245 pounds, is a power forward who has shown flashes of a midrange and long range shooting stroke but lately has played much more in the post. He often played out of position at center last season when either Jermaine O'Neal and/or Marcin Gortat missed time due to injury. This season he figures to play exclusively at the power forward spot, since the Suns will have at least three pure centers on opening night.
Marcus Morris, at 6'9" and 235 pounds, is a tweener who can play anywhere on the wing. He calls himself a basketball player who can do it all offensively - score, dribble, shoot - and defensively. Miles Plumlee spoke glowingly of Marcus' ability to defend anyone from power forward to shooting guard when they played pickup in September.
Therein lies the rub. Marcus can play more than one position, but the NBA is league of specialists. Only a chosen few who transcend the game are allowed to play multiple positions in the same contest while the team and the rotation is built around them. Everyone else leaves the coaching staff scratching their heads, looking for the "best" position for each player.
"Some people say I'm a four because of my size," Marcus said. "So what do you call LeBron? What is he? What is Carmelo? He's a 3, he's a 4. Whatever fits the team at that time, I do. Today [against the Clippers in preseason] I played the 2. I was guarding Jamal Crawford half the game. "
Marcus wasn't boasting when he mentioned LeBron and Carmelo. He was merely making an analogy that there are some players in this league who succeed without fitting the perfect mold of one single position.
"It's a new team," he said of fitting in. "Just trying to find my way. I think I can be a great asset to this team as a 3 and 4. Like I said, I'm just trying to figure out how I can help the team. I text them each on a daily basis, asking ‘what do you need me to do?'"
The problem for Marcus is that he needs to show he can excel at something on a consistent basis, yet he's being buried along with everyone else under an 18-man rotation at exactly the time he should be shining.
"Everybody's trying to play, trying to fit in," he said. "That's what this preseason is for, to learn each other's games and be around each other. Right now we're trying different things to see what guys we're going to keep or not. At the same time, it's hard to build because we don't know who's going to be on the team."
Marcus elaborated on the focus of the team being the success of a couple of guards. The other 16 players are just trying to fit around Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, which isn't entirely settling for anyone.
"Everybody wants to be good, playing Bled and Gogi together," he said. "Everybody talks about the two dynamic guards so maybe they want to show everybody they can do it. Sometimes they get overaggressive. Sometimes you just can't get the ball but sometimes you just gotta continue playing, continue working and it will come I guess."
After four preseason games, coach Hornacek is still playing at least 13 players a night. That leaves precious little time to get yourself dialed into the game and make an impression before being subbed out for someone else.
"As a team, we're trying to find ourselves so I think guys are overaggressive at times," Marcus said. "That's gets away from what works, and instead trying to find your own game. Maybe it's just preseason. We need to come back in [to the film room and practice] and show guys to be there in certain spots and be a team."
Hornacek said before last night's game that he would experiment at least one more time with lineups before beginning to tighten the rotation in the last two preseason games in advance of the real season. While he has an idea of who would fit into a long-term rotation, it hasn't been an easy decision. The entire roster is full of guys who are pretty close in talent and skill level at this time.
While the Morris brothers and second-year player Kendall Marshall figure to make the 2013-14 team if for no better reason than the size of their contracts (about $2 million each) and their relative age/potential, they are all still waiting to hear from the Suns if they have a future in Phoenix beyond this season.
It is generally a no-brainer to pick up the cheap options on rookie-deal players for the 2014-15 season. Both the Morris brothers jump to $2.9 million each next season, while Kendall Marshall remains at just over $2 million. While that's nearly $8 million total, you can argue that money is well spent on youth.
But do the Suns still need their youth/potential value? They already have Archie Goodwin and Alex Len along with a potential haul of 2014 draft picks filling the kiddie litter, while a number of other players will still be 25 or younger next season no matter who stays and who goes. The Suns will have cheap contracts and potential in at least half dozen players next season with or without the Morrii and Marshall.
And, in an even stickier question, what if the Suns decide they don't need both of the Morrises? What if the Suns decide they cancel each other out too much? How much angst would that leave in the remaining player?
The Suns have to decide if Marcus and Markieff Morris, and Kendall Marshall, are worth keeping around for basketball reasons.
For their part, they're all keeping an open mind.
"It could go well," Marcus said of the upcoming season. "I could work at the 4 too, and at the 3. I just want to work and whatever helps my team win. At the same time, I just gotta find myself as a Phoenix Sun over the year."
With a lineup of Bledsoe and Dragic running the show, the Suns really need a shooter to spread the floor and draw out the defense. Otherwise, the defense will collapse on the driving guards. The Suns most balanced lineup might very well be Dragic and Bledsoe at the guard spots with Gortat/Plumlee/Len in the middle and two shooters at the forward positions from among Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green.
"I'm a shooter. No doubt about it," Morris said about that. "I had a good year in Houston when I shot almost 40% on three pointers. Whatever you need me to do, I'll do."