It seemed such a heartwarming story. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris signed identical contract extensions with the Suns on the same day prior to the 2014-15 season.
The Morris brothers fantasized as kids about being NBA teammates, and the Suns made that dream a reality.
Fast forward to today. Marcus Morris is playing with the Pistons as their starting small forward, having been traded last summer so the Suns could create salary cap space in a failed attempt to sign LaMarcus Aldridge.
Markieff Morris is still with the Suns but miserable, angry that his brother was traded and feeling that the twins sacrificed more money to stay together in Phoenix.
Markieff has sulked most of the season and asked for a trade. He was recently suspended for two games by the team for throwing a towel in the face of coach Jeff Hornacek.
Suns owner Robert Sarver, unhappy that his club is one of the league’s bigger disappointments, blamed Markieff for his issues, telling the Arizona Republic that the “millennial culture” has trouble dealing with adversity. Both brothers also face aggravated assault charges stemming from an incident early last year at a Phoenix recreation center.
Markieff, considered a rising star just two years ago, has not played since Dec. 31 and has appeared in just 23 of Phoenix’s 38 games. Marcus has started all 36 games for Detroit and is averaging a career-high 14.1 points in his first full season as a starter.
While Markieff finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, Marcus has drawn the praises of Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy.
“We just thought he was a good player,” Van Gundy said. “There’s a lot of guys like that, when given the opportunity for more minutes have a chance to play real well. Not really surprised by his play. And he’s a really highly professional guy, comes in and gets his work done every day, doesn’t have a whole lot to say. When he does, it’s good, positive stuff. He’s one of the easiest guys to coach that I’ve ever been around.”
Marcus said he talks with his brother daily and the two still envision playing together, but he said it was best for him to leave Phoenix.
“It’s been a blessing, I feel like I’m more of a winner here, I feel like I fit here a lot better than Phoenix,” he said. “I’m not the first player in the league this has happened to, won’t be the last. I found my comfort zone and I’m thriving.”
Marcus said the stability of starting nightly and his good communication with Van Gundy has fostered his progress in Detroit.
“Being in Phoenix, I never really knew what my role was, I don’t think nobody did,” he said. “Everybody was out there just playing. That’s one thing [Van Gundy] being a great coach, he makes it clear what your role is.”
While Marcus is flourishing, Markieff is waiting for a change of scenery.
“He’s in good spirits,” Marcus said of his brother. “Whatever team he ends up going to, he’s still going to be that same player. He’s just excited to see what’s next and where he’s going. Some things were said about him in the press and I know that’s totally wrong. People talk about adversity; coming from where we come from [Philadelphia] is adversity. This is small stuff. He’ll get over it fast.”
When asked about Sarver’s comments, Marcus said: “He don’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t even know basketball. He just owns the team. He don’t know nothing of what he talks about. We just let that type of stuff breeze [past], laugh at it because it’s funny.
“We’re from Philadelphia, man. This ain’t tough. Sometimes things don’t work out in your favor; you stay strong and feel blessed.”
One-and-dones not done growing
The Celtics own the Nets’ first-round pick, which could fall in the top five. That could leave Boston with the chance to draft one of the top college freshmen expected to come out early. LSU’s Ben Simmons has emerged as the prohibitive No. 1 pick, and draftexpress.com ranks five freshmen among its top seven draft prospects.
The issue for many previous one-and-dones is their lack of NBA readiness.
For example, several one-and-dones from the 2014 draft — such as Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, James Young, and Tyler Ennis — are still trying to find their footing in the league. There are no guarantees that these players will flourish because they lacked experience and a polished game before reaching the NBA.
These players are basically trying to become pros as pros.
ABC analysts Jalen Rose and P.J. Carlesimo were questioned on the subject. Had one-and-dones been in vogue 20-plus years ago, Rose would have been a perfect candidate. Carlesimo coached a one-and-done named Kevin Durant during his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics.
“The misnomer of whether you come out after high school or whether you come out after one year, you can still work on your game,” Rose said. “But it’s become a league of specialty because now you can get paid by just doing one thing. That’s why I draw the line in designating why guys are in the league, and I call it skill versus will.
“Look at a player like DeAndre Jordan. Has all of the physical tools — run, jump, dunk, block shots, a defensive menace when he wants to be — but he can’t post up at all. He can’t post up against a 6-foot-5 player, and he can’t shoot free throws. The sad thing is he probably will not be able to shoot free throws. But you know what happened? He got an $80 million contract. Players around the league see that.”
Jordan was the center of controversy last summer when he verbally committed to a maximum contract with the Mavericks and then changed his mind and returned to the Clippers. Jordan is a career 41.6 percent free throw shooter and has never averaged more than 11.6 points per game.
“So when Tristan Thompson goes to the table, he wants that same kind of money while basically showing those same level of skills,” Rose said. “So the league itself has become one of specialty; that’s why it’s refreshing when you see these high-level players, like a Steph Curry, continue to work on his game. Yeah, he’s not a defensive stopper. But he’ll get down in the stance and steal the ball from them. Or LeBron James. These guys look to try to do it on both ends of the floor and play multifaceted basketball.
“So I don’t just attribute it to how long they stayed in college, more so that guys have to continue to work and expand your game as a young player. That’s your responsibility as a young guy. Come in and work on your game every day. When it has become a league of specialty, now all of a sudden you can do what you do well, and that’s what sums it up.”
During Durant’s rookie season, Carlesimo put the 6-9 player at shooting guard to better utilize his scoring skills and because he wasn’t physical enough to defend small forwards.
Durant’s role has changed over time.
“It’s funny watching [a recent game], Kevin was bubbling over as much about the blocked shot at the end as the jump shot he made,” Carlesimo said. “I would be a big proponent if you could control it of guys staying [in college]. I think you could make a real case for staying a year or two in college, almost as much [for] what you learn off the floor.
“Not that they’re not great coaches and not that they’re not learning a lot of basketball, but it’s not the same. The development is so much better in our league. The player development, the coaches, the time you have to work on your game in the NBA, there is no question you can advance your game more individually and there is more time to do it and more people to work with you in pros than in college.”
Carlesimo said the one-and-dones will continue streaming into the league.
“You can’t convince people to stay anymore,” he said. “There is too much money involved. It’s not going to happen, as good as I think it would be if they did. But the work ethic, that’s what Jalen’s talking about. We talked about it before with Steph. That’s what blows my mind. You see guys who their game is begging to be worked on, and they’re getting outworked in the summers by Durants, and [Russell] Westbrooks, and Currys, and LeBron James. I mean, what’s wrong with that picture? It’s amazing.
“So, no, I think there is great room for improvement in the league. I think it’s so tough for those young guys to come, and normally they’re on a tough team where they’re just thrown in. The good news is they get to play. The bad, Kevin Durant in Seattle, how many years ago that was, in ’07-’08. But they get to play, but it’s a tough way to learn. Some guys thrive with it, some guys struggle with it.”
Towns taking in his every word
Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns has spent the season being mentored by 21-year veteran Kevin Garnett, and their bond would make for a good reality TV series. The Timberwolves signed Garnett to a two-year extension last offseason with the primary purpose of serving as a mentor to their prized rookie.
He has had a profound effect on Towns, 20, a top Rookie of the Year candidate and already one of the best young post players in the league.
“KG is awesome, he’s mostly my mentor with everything he is teaching,” Towns said. “[I’ve learned] not only how to be a pro but a Hall of Famer, the work you need to put in, exactly what you need to do to be the best player you could possibly be.”
Towns wasn’t as descriptive about how the intense Garnett relays his messages, but they are piercing. Towns is a special talent with a chance to be a perennial All-Star with his ability to score in the paint and on the perimeter.
Towns has made the game look effortless at times, averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in 29 minutes per game.
“I worked tremendously hard during the summer to be ready for this season, hardest I worked in my entire life,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself all the time. Just trying to go out there, continue to learn, continue to get better and just continue the process of being an NBA player.”
The biggest adjustment, Towns said, has been off the court, trying to digest the busyness of NBA life.
“Just the travel,” he said. “Traveling all the time. It’s something I haven’t had to do in college, being able to do that now. You could be playing in New York, be playing in Minnesota, and then New York in a four-day span. It’s something you have to get used to.”
The bond between Towns and Garnett could be one of the key components of Minnesota’s rebuilding effort. Since Garnett was traded to the Celtics in 2007, the Timberwolves have tried to build around players such as Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Love. By trading Love to Cleveland, Minnesota picked up the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and took Andrew Wiggins. A year later, the Timberwolves selected Towns first overall.
Re-signing Garnett was not only a public relations dream for the franchise but also an opportunity to give Towns, Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng a strong veteran presence.
“It’s just one of the things when you have a Hall of Famer in the gym, you just want to listen,” Towns said. “You hear everything he has to say. It was definitely a cool moment [when I first met him] and definitely led to some fireworks.”
What kind of fireworks? “Good ones,” Towns said. “Everything he has advice for me, I want to listen. And also, when you have a person like KG on your team, it makes everything a lot easier to understand. He just expects the most of us. KG’s a guy who expects to raise the level of all of us and he has standards he wants us to meet.”
NBA scouts descended upon Santa Cruz, Calif., for the D-League Showcase, which features all of the NBADL’s teams playing a series of games for the express purpose of giving players a platform with which to generate interest. One intriguing player is former first-round pick Jimmer Fredette, who is trying to make a comeback after being released by the Spurs in training camp. Fredette is playing for the Westchester (N.Y.) Knicks . . . Kobe Bryant, who has played better since announcing his plan to retire six weeks ago, said there was no way he would reconsider his decision to walk away. “I’m completely at peace. It’s time,” he said. Bryant averaged 18.7 points in December on 36.9 percent shooting, compared with 14.9 points on 29.3 percent shooting in November . . . There seems to be increasing pressure on Minnesota interim coach Sam Mitchell with the Timberwolves dropping eight of nine, including a loss at Philadelphia, to drop to 12-24. The Timberwolves were expected to take a step toward the playoffs but instead have struggled. Mitchell has been criticized for his use of Towns, whose playing time has been slashed in the fourth quarter. Fortunately for the Timberwolves, they were only 3½ games out of a playoff spot entering Friday. They need to find court time for center Nikola Pekovic, who made his season debut Wednesday after missing two months following Achilles’ surgery . . . The Raptors will be without DeMarre Carroll for two months after he had surgery on his bothersome right knee. That should mean more playing time for journeyman James Johnson. Johnson, a rugged defender, is in the final year of his contract at $2.5 million and could be a trade deadline target for a club looking for another big man.
Andre Iguodala, seventh among Western Conference guards in the most recent All-Star voting, will likely become a second straight, and ninth overall, Finals MVP that didn’t make the following All-Star Game. It wasn’t production problems that kept the majority of them out:
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.