All Marcus Morris needed, it seems, was opportunity, and, because of that, it seems as if he has turned himself into a mainstay in the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Morris scored a season-high 31 points Monday in the Celtics’ 113-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, including five 3-pointers — three of them in a 69-second span of the third quarter.
Despite all the chaos, inconsistency, and issues that have followed the Celtics through the season’s first two months, Morris has been the Celtics’ steadiest and most reliable player. And he has to wait until age 29, essentially at the midpoint of his career, to receive the appreciation he feels he richly deserves.
It’s been a bumpy journey for Morris, a first-round pick of the Houston Rockets in 2011. He played just 71 games with the Rockets before being traded to the Phoenix Suns to reunite with his twin brother, Markieff, who was taken one pick before Marcus.
That worked out well, until it didn’t.
The Morris brothers, who are as close as twins could be, even getting identical tattoos, were up for contract extensions. Then-general manager Ryan McDonough said that he had a $52 million pool for the brothers, and Marcus said the duo accepted a discount with the express purpose of playing together.
The two accepted the $52 million contract with Markieff, then more established, taking $32 million and Marcus getting $20 million. After one year together following the new contract, Marcus was traded to the Detroit Pistons in a salary dump so the Suns could chase free agents.
Markieff felt as if they were lied to, soon talking his way out of Phoenix and getting traded to Washington in February 2016 for essentially a first-round pick.
Marcus played well for the Detroit Pistons. In the summer of 2017, the Celtics had to clear salary-cap space to sign Gordon Hayward. Marcus’s $5.3 million salary became his biggest asset, as the Celtics traded Avery Bradley and his $8 million salary to Detroit for Marcus.
If Marcus had been earning $7 million or $8 million, he probably wouldn’t have become a Celtic, but his salary was so manageable that it helped facilitate the trade.
Marcus — and Markieff — are in the final year of that infamous $52 million pool deal. Marcus makes just $5.37 million this season, making him the 204th-highest paid player in the NBA, according to hoopshype.com. He makes less than Ben McLemore, Wesley Johnson, Mario Hezonja, and Matthew Dellavedova.
And because of their being grossly underpaid for this market, the Morris twins hired famed agent Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron James, for their contract negotiations this summer.
The Celtics would be foolish not to try to re-sign Morris, but they also have to be wary of the luxury-tax repercussions. The club has to sign Kyrie Irving to a maximum deal and probably Jaylen Brown to an extension of his rookie contract, which could reach $80 million. There could be potential monies available if Al Horford opts out of his contract and signs a reduced contract for multiple years, but Morris says he realizes this could be his final season in Boston.
His impact on the team has been immeasurable. He has served as the primary mentor to second-year forward Jayson Tatum. This current Celtics’ locker room lacks the vocal leaders of the Big Three era. Horford leads by example. Irving has the most experience in terms of accomplishments, but is still only 26.
Hayward is still trying to mesh into the team concept after missing all of last season with his leg injury.
Morris speaks from experience. The Celtics are his fourth team. He’s been discarded a few times, considered a disappointment in Houston and Phoenix.
But playing under the radar in Detroit, where he became a force in the post against other small forwards, allowed Marcus to regain his reputation as a scorer and rebounder.
Morris is shooting a career-high 49 percent from the field and nearly 43 percent from the 3-point line. What’s more, he is deadly from the top of the key 3-pointer, hitting 50.5 percent from that area. So when he drained three in a row against New Orleans, his teammates quickly gave him the ball for a fourth chance. It rimmed out.
“Coach [Brad Stevens] is like, ‘Find him! Find him!’ and I’m like, ‘Coach just let me go,’ ” he said, joking. “He did a great job of getting the ball to me. I think everybody wanted me to make [the fourth] too bad. That’s why I missed.
“The biggest thing is my team did a great job continuing to find me, but still, it was inside the offense and it wasn’t forced.”
Nothing ever seems forced with Morris. His offense has blended with the flow of the Celtics offense. Boston desperately needs fearless and unafraid scorers, and Morris generally never shoots shots that are not in his strength, such as the 3-pointer or midrange.
He is the primary reason the Celtics have won six consecutive games, when he has averaged 17.2 points on 51.4 percent from the field. This may be his final season in Boston, but he is proving he deserves a lucrative, career-defining contract this summer.
Then he can finally get the appreciation he covets and has been denied throughout his career.