Six years after being tabbed a franchise cornerstone in Charlotte, Adam Morrison looks dramatically different playing a secondary role for Brooklyn in the summer league. The mustache is gone, and so is his luster after a remarkable career at Gonzaga, a high-scoring tenure that encouraged the Bobcats to take him third overall in the draft.
What Morrison is now is another on the list of Michael Jordan’s draft mistakes. He was never an impact player for the Bobcats, after some considered him a Larry Bird type because of his length and shooting ability. That was a lot of pressure, especially after Morrison blew out his left knee following his rookie season.
A career that began with promise quickly turned sour, those shots of Morrison at the end of the Lakers’ bench during their two most recent title runs a reminder of his decline. Morrison hasn’t played in the NBA in two years and it’s been more than three since he scored at least 10 points in a game.
He has spent the last two years in Serbia with KK Crvena Zvezda and in Turkey with Besiktas Milangaz, and less than a week before his 28th birthday, Morrison, one of the oldest players in the summer league, is giving the NBA one last shot.
“It’s highs and lows definitely, but yeah, I still enjoy it,” said Morrison, who scored 917 points as a rookie but just 283 in the NBA since. “It’s tough, but I look at it in a way that my problems as far as basketball are really not that big a deal compared to other people’s problems. I sincerely mean that. And you know, I was on a good team [with the Lakers]. So it wasn’t like I was on a really bad team and still didn’t get an opportunity. Just didn’t get minutes. I understood and we were loaded, that’s what happens.”
Morrison keeps his two championship rings in a safe, but he was obviously an afterthought. The player who was thrown into the deal that sent Morrison from the Bobcats to the Lakers (Shannon Brown) became a key contributor off the bench for Los Angeles, making Morrison’s two-year stint there appear even more uneventful.
But Morrison believes he still has game. He averaged 5.2 points and 19.2 minutes through the five summer league games for the Nets, and headed to Las Vegas this weekend to play with the Clippers’ summer league team, hoping to secure any role on any team, but one that will keep him in the United States and near his two daughters.
“I just need somebody to take a chance and give me an opportunity,” he said. “I’m a good teammate. I work hard, so hopefully somebody will give me an opportunity to show that. It’s tough when people say I was just terrible and I was just no good. A lot of people leave out that I missed a whole season and then got traded to the Lakers. So, that part is tough. But for me, I know what happened, so that’s just how it is.”
After missing home the last two years, Morrison said he will likely retire if does not make an NBA roster.
“I kind of made it either NBA or turn the page and do something else with my life,” he said. “Whether that’s coaching, I’m not sure yet. If I don’t make it in the NBA, I can look myself in the mirror and say I gave it an honest shot. After that, I think I’m just going to stay and coach.
“Europe is tough. It’s hard. I’ve got two little daughters. I mean, the people are really nice. Not knowing the language, not knowing where everything is at, and the stuff you take for granted being in America, it’s crazy. It’s one of those things you have to experience because once you get over there, turn on the TV, there’s one English channel. And it’s, ‘Hey, I want to be [in the States],’ but it’s a 17-hour flight to get back.”
Morrison undoubtedly has had to humble himself to return to the summer league. There are players as much as nine years younger (Detroit’s Andre Drummond) participating, making Morrison feel like a fossil.
“I was looking at one of the [roster] sheets and I saw [birth years] ’90, ’91, and I got one or two more years to show and if not, the door’s closed. I had some bad luck and part of it is I didn’t prepare myself after my rookie year. It’s just how it is.”
Lewis also picks Miami
One thing that may have been missed with the signing of Ray Allen was the Heat also adding Allen’s former Sonics teammate Rashard Lewis, who signed a one-year deal for the minimum after being bought out by the Hornets.
Lewis’s road after leaving Seattle has been bumpy at best. When Allen decided to have double ankle surgery and miss the final 16 games of the 2006-07 season, then-Sonics coach Bob Hill told Lewis that he would become the focal point of the offense.
Lewis, playing point forward, averaged 24 points in those 16 games, including dropping 35 each on Kevin Garnett’s Timberwolves and the Jazz. Lewis was entering his prime at 28, and that stretch encouraged Magic general manager Otis Smith to offer the impending free agent a maximum contract of six years and $118 million, with then-Sonics general manager Sam Presti working a sign-and-trade with Orlando.
The pressure of playing under a maximum contract and being the final piece of the Magic’s championship puzzle with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson was apparently too much for Lewis. While he turned in three solid seasons in Orlando, he never lived up to expectations, constantly being reminded of his salary.
Lewis was dealt to the Wizards when Smith became infatuated with resurrecting the career of Gilbert Arenas. Aging and rarely healthy, Lewis’s time in Washington was a nightmare. He played a total of 60 games over two seasons and soon became more coveted for his expiring contract than his skills.
But because he never had a large ego, he appears a natural for a secondary role with the Heat.
“I’m at a point in my career where I’ve been on an All-Star team, played for 13, 14 years, and made a pretty good amount of money over my career, so I feel like everybody sets goals over their career, so the next goal is obviously to try to win a championship,’’ he said. “The ball can’t bounce forever. I’m sure you see the gray hair on my head. I’m getting older. I’m ready to win.”
Allen and Lewis made for a formidable combination in Seattle, but this time both will support LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Lewis and Allen earned a combined $31 million last season. This season, they will earn a combined $4.3 million.
“I just mention LeBron, Chris, and Dwyane, and then they take it from there,” said Heat president Pat Riley. “If we could, and have the ability to pay all the players really what they could get on the open market, we would. We don’t have that capability, so Rashard, Ray, people that are interested in coming here, they know coming in what the situation is, so they want to be here because I really believe in the organization as much as anything. They see a team that has an opportunity to be a winner, and at this stage of their career this is what it’s about.”
Allen, who committed to Miami July 6, talked with Lewis about the Heat. It wasn’t a difficult sell.
“Me and Ray are real close,” Lewis said. “Ray’s strictly a professional. He helped me get to my first All-Star game while I was in Seattle. We’re both excited about it on the court, but off the court as well. His wife is very close with my wife and over the years we kept a good relationship, so I definitely know the chemistry is there and it’s just getting back on the court rebuilding that court chemistry.”
Like Allen, Lewis has to prove he’s healthy and capable of producing. He shot a then-career low 41.9 percent in his final year in Orlando, and averaged a career-worst 7.8 points on 38.5 percent shooting last season with Washington.
“I told Rashard the other day, I have an hour and a half [video] on him,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Forty percent of it was from Seattle, so I was able to see a lot of he and Ray together on the same court. We’re excited about all the things, the professionalism. The versatility is really what’s key, to play multiple positions. The more we can become positionless, the more exciting it can be.”
Jones pleased by draft dip
Before he sprained his left ankle in Oklahoma City’s second game of summer league, Perry Jones looked like a polished rookie. The 28th pick in the draft was labeled a lottery prospect throughout his two years at Baylor, but like new Celtic Jared Sullinger, he was injury flagged during the combine as doctors reported a potential long-term knee issue.
Jones said he has ignored his detractors and feels comfortable with the Western Conference champions. One reason Jones remained in school after his freshman season was because he didn’t want to go to a poor team high in the lottery. He and his family had pegged the Thunder as a potential team, although Jones didn’t think it would be so late in the first round.
“I’m just being myself, that’s what [the coaches] told me they wanted me to do,” said Jones, who averaged 12 points in the two summer league games, playing small and power forward with his 6-foot-11-inch frame. “To be honest, since I slipped in the draft, [I went to] a perfect spot, a perfect position, not too far but not too close to home. Everything was perfect, playing for a great team. This is my favorite team and they have my favorite player [Kevin Durant], so what more could you want?”
Jones is similar to Durant in length and all-around game. He also has been compared to Lamar Odom, not having a true position. The biggest concern about Jones coming into the draft was his occasional lack of work ethic. Jones earned just third team All-Big 12 honors last season, averaging 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds.
His game may translate better to the NBA, where he will be allowed to play away from the basket but occasionally post up. He said playing with Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden will be invaluable.
“I don’t care if it’s 30 seconds, 15 seconds, whatever I can do to help the team out to put them over the hump and win a championship,” Jones said. “I went through a lot at Baylor, so it got me prepared for what’s been coming and what’s to come. I know what I can do. I control what I do and I know how I can help and I know how I can be great. Just play basketball and everything will fall into place.”
Austin Rivers had his choice of uniform numbers with the Hornets and selected 25, the number his father Doc wore through his NBA career. The Hornets make their summer league debut Sunday night in Las Vegas and Doc is likely to attend . . . Larry Bird was with the Pacers contingent here last week, helping the team transition to the new Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard era . . . A player who seems to be maturing is Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, who played well in Orlando and appears ready for a more prominent role with the team that has dealt such players as Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. Jones, who was in Celtics camp briefly in 2007, is again on the team’s radar as the Mavericks are expected to waive him . . . Things worked out nicely for Elton Brand, who was waived by the 76ers by way of the amnesty clause because of an $18 million salary in the final season of his contract. The Mavericks beat out several teams, including the Lakers, for Brand’s services . . . The player who made the biggest impression in Orlando was Magic second-round pick Kyle O’Quinn, last seen helping 15th-seeded Norfolk State upset No. 2 Missouri in the NCAA Tournament. O’Quinn is a legitimate 6-10 and fell in the draft because he is not an elite athlete. However, he has enough touch around the basket and toughness in the paint to become a productive backup . . . An unexpected free agent on the market is center Darko Milicic, who was amnestied so the Timberwolves could make an offer to Nicolas Batum. Milicic, a former No. 2 overall pick, is a solid rebounder, defender, and shot-blocker and may come relatively cheap . . . Jermaine O’Neal apparently has decided to play next season after left wrist surgery ended his stay with the Celtics.