This past summer saw the Phoenix Suns trade Marcus Morris in a salary dump, followed by harsh words from him on his way out, and an unambiguous trade demand from his twin Markieff. Now Markieff is playing his worst ball as a pro. Do you believe these things are unrelated?
Markieff Morris isn't right this season. While his 13.1 PPG and 5.4 RPG are roughly in line with his career averages, he's scoring those points in a woefully inefficient manner. His overall FG% is 40.5%. He's shooting more 3s, but still not effectively at 31.7%, and his TS% is a career low 46.2%. His turnover rate is at an all-time high, while his FT rate is at an all-time low. Keef is not a starting caliber NBA player right now.
It's impossible to ignore the drama of the summer when considering reasons for his poor start to the season. He cut off all communications with the team from the time of the Marcus trade to just before media day, out of touch while the rest of the team was building chemistry in voluntary workouts. During that time, Keef publicly announced:
"One thing for sure, I am not going to be there," Morris said Tuesday after a morning workout at Competitive Edge Sports in King of Prussia.
"If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. " he added. "I don't give a [freak]. I am not going to be there at all. That's just what it is."
He was upset not only about the trade of his twin brother and best friend, but also that the Suns aggressively pursued free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, who would have replaced Keef as starting PF. Whether you think Keef is justified in feeling disrespected and betrayed or not, he made it clear he feels that way.
Though he reported to media day and training camp as required, and said all the right things, including "I want to be here," I find it difficult to believe he simply forgave and forgot. In fact, given that FOE (Family Over Everything) is a slogan he uses incessantly, I believe he still holds a grudge against the Suns front office over the "disrespect" of his brother. (Note that I don't know Keef, and have never talked with him on this topic, so my assessment here is merely that of an observer of Markieff Morris the public figure.)
When the Suns acquired Marcus and then re-signed them as a package deal in the summer of 2014, it was with a complete understanding of the bond and synergy between the two. Indeed, former President Lon Babby trumpeted this after their contract extensions:
"It's been a great joy for me personally," Babby said. "To watch them since they've come to the Suns. Not only on the court but as men and leaders of our franchise. These two young guys have such a bond between them, we had to try to find a way to keep them together. The synergy between them will only grow. They are great representatives of our franchise."
If the bond between them would produce positive synergy when they were paired, it stands to reason that the effect of splitting them would be quite the opposite, which is exactly what's happened. This was foreseeable, and it was a corner the Suns painted themselves into when they committed to the twins. What would the exit strategy be if/when the time came to part with one of them?
It's fine for the Suns organization to say that they were completely within their rights to deal Mook and make a strong play to replace Keef, and that Keef needs to just deal with it, be a mature professional. Nothing wrong with any of that, but there are still consequences, and right now the Suns possess a starting PF who is likely unhappy, and certainly under-producing.
This is not to suggest Keef isn't putting forth 100% effort or, worse, is intentionally playing poorly. Not at all. It's more complicated than that. Think of it as the person who struggles at work because he's going through personal problems at home. Or, more appropriately, the person who carries bitterness towards his employer after seeing a close friend get fired or laid off. He still shows up every day and goes through the motions, but do you think his heart is still into it the way it was before?
Maybe Keef is playing poorly because he misses his brother on the court or at home, maybe he's struggling because he holds a grudge against his bosses, or maybe it's just a coincidence. Maybe he's just going through a cold spell which happens to correlate with the hard feelings and harsh words of this past summer. More likely, he's not in a psychological place that gives him the best chance to succeed as a player. It's a huge problem for this Suns team, no matter who is to blame.
All data courtesy BasketballReference.com.