For the Lakers, the heavy lifting of building the 2020-21 roster in NBA free agency is mostly done. But working out the lower rungs of the rotation can be critical, especially in a season in which the Lakers will have only two-and-a-half months from the end of the NBA Finals to the start of next season.
That is why L.A. is doing some important wrestling with filling out the roster beyond the spots already filled. And one of those spots, they hope, will belong to mid-season pickup Markieff Morris, but the team is struggling to find a way to give him something bigger than the veteran’s minimum, which is all the team has to offer now.
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Morris is being pursued by multiple teams. One report suggests the Clippers could be pushing to bring him across to join his twin brother, Marcus, on the team. Another, from Marc Stein of the New York Times, has the Raptors in pursuit of Morris, even as Toronto battles the Lakers over center Marc Gasol.
Toronto is still trying to keep Marc Gasol but has strong interest in Markieff Morris as well, league sources say
The Lakers, reported Friday by @NYTSports as a prime suitor for Gasol in response to Dwight Howard's exit, continue to push to lure the Spaniard away from Toronto
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 22, 2020
Markieff Morris Stepped Up During NBA Playoffs
Morris was not much of a factor for L.A. in 14 regular-season games last year, averaging just 5.3 points and 3.2 rebounds. He shot 40.6% from the field and 33.3% from the 3-point line in those games. L.A. signed him after waiving DeMarcus Cousins at the end of February. Morris began the season in Detroit but was waived after the trade deadline as the Pistons began to go into a rebuilding mode.
But Morris took on more importance in the playoffs. His numbers did not blossom—he averaged 5.9 points and 3.0 rebounds—but he was far more efficient, shooting 44.9% from the field and 42.0% from the 3-point line. He took on an especially big role against the small-ball Rockets, and started Games 4 and 5 of that series.
There was some concern about Morris after his unimpressive numbers to start his Lakers tenure. Coach Frank Vogel, though, always had confidence.
“He’s a beast and he’s someone who is going to help us in the playoffs,” Vogel told reporters in August. “I think it’s been a slow and steady buildup from the time he joined us [in the bubble]. I feel good about what he can bring to our team in the playoffs.”
Lakers Eager to Keep Morris, Sign Marc Gasol
The Lakers have been impressive with their moves in the offseason to this point. They added two formidable bench scorers, Montrezl Harrell of the Clippers and Dennis Schroder of the Thunder. They brought in Wesley Matthews to start on the wing and brought back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
But they lost key reserves Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and Dwight Howard—and Howard is the guy they’re seeking to replace.
Rajon Rondo thanks LA 👏🏆 pic.twitter.com/FcHERZwuVC
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 21, 2020
The Lakers have been pursuing Gasol, the brother of Lakers legend Pau Gasol, to add some depth at center with Howard now in Philadelphia. But they want to keep Morris as a small-ball option in the middle, too. He can also play power forward.
Because the Lakers’ signing of Caldwell-Pope put them close to the luxury tax threshold, the team is limited in what it can offer players now—only veteran’s minimum contracts are available. The Lakers are said to be seeking a way to offload the $4.2 million contract of JaVale McGee in order to gain some room under the tax and some flexibility to offer Morris more money.
The Lakers did well at the start of free agency. But they’re being tested now to finish the job.