The Celtics opened this preseason with a roster that included 10 new players, and there has been great urgency since the start of training camp for this group to learn a new system and develop chemistry.
But for the first week and a half, one key component was missing. Forward Marcus Morris, who was acquired from the Pistons in July, was on trial in Phoenix on a felony assault charge.
Morris and his twin brother Markieff, who plays for the Wizards, were accused of taking part in a January 2015 beating of a former acquaintance.
On Tuesday, a jury ruled that the Morris brothers were not guilty, and on Thursday, Marcus Morris took part in his first practice with Boston.
For the first time, the Celtics are whole.
“It’s a big relief,” Morris said. “For a second, I felt like it was kind of killing my character for a lot of people who don’t know me. So just to get acquitted of everything and now be a Boston Celtic, that’s all I’m really looking forward to.”
If Morris had been found guilty, he could have faced a maximum of almost four years in prison.
Even if he had just received probation, he would have received a mandatory 10-game NBA suspension.
Morris said he remained confident that his case would have a positive outcome. Now he is just glad to refocus.
“It was very difficult [to miss training camp],” he said. “I love playing basketball. Just for me to be coming to a new place and not being able to be there, just learning everybody, it’s a little tough. But that’s behind me. I’m ready to play. I’m ready to get going.”
The Celtics and Morris worked to ensure that the adjustment would not be jarring when he joined the team for workouts.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens were in contact with Morris while he was in Phoenix, and, perhaps most importantly, staff member Alex Barlow traveled there to give the forward an early primer on the team’s system.
Most mornings at 6:30, before the trial resumed for the day, Barlow helped Morris with workouts and film study.
“Brad’s done a great job of sending guys down to kind of put me through the offense and defensive principles,” Morris said. “So just coming in as a player, learning everybody and learning their strengths.”
In July, after the Celtics agreed to sign forward Gordon Hayward to a maximum-salary deal, they needed to clear cap room to have the space to sign him. So they traded Avery Bradley to Detroit for Morris, who will make about $3.8 million less than Bradley this season.
“At first I didn’t really have a reaction,” Morris said. “But how could I be any type of way but happy and excited to be a Boston Celtic? It’s one of the best organizations in the NBA.”
The 6-foot-9-inch Morris averaged 14 points and 4.6 rebounds for Detroit last season. He has mostly played small forward in recent years, but the Celtics will often slot him at power forward, with Al Horford sliding over to center. Morris could be undersized at times, but he will also often be quicker than his defender, opening up new options on offense.
Morris, who is known as one of the league’s tough guys, said he was looking forward to playing with similarly minded Celtics such as Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Of course, they were both traded to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving, likely reshaping this team’s identity a bit.
“I thought the guys we lost were physical basketball players,” Stevens said. “Everybody had their own strengths, but we lost a lot of physicality.
“Ultimately, you have to play appropriately, but you have to play physical enough. Obviously you have to be able to hold your ground, and he’s proven he can do that at a couple of positions.”
Morris, for his part, said he will still be prepared to make his tenacity known. He noted that last season was somewhat calm for him, as he was assessed just six technical fouls.
“I think it’ll be really easy for me to fit in,” Morris said. “I’ve got to be the tough guy on the team. I’ve got to be the protector. Guys, you know, knocking my guys down, I can’t have that.
“It’s going to be my role to be the bully. And I accept that.”
Morris arrived at the Celtics training facility around 9 a.m. Thursday and went through drills with Boston’s youngest players. He then completed a full practice two hours later, and afterward said he would play in the exhibition game Friday night against the 76ers.
He acknowledged that he is not quite in excellent shape, but most of all he is just glad to be back where he is most comfortable.