While Morris has been spotted working out with the team and participating in practices, he continues to be ruled out for games, officially listed as “return to competition conditioning.” On Friday, March 11, AP‘s Tim Reynolds revealed a major update concerning his return timetable.
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“A person with knowledge of the situation says Morris has received clearance to play again, a move that comes more than four months after he was injured in a scuffle with Denver’s Nikola Jokic,” Reynolds wrote. “The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday because the clearance has not been revealed publicly.”
Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang confirmed AP’s report on Saturday, March 12. The veteran forward “has received clearance from the NBA to play again,” Chiang wrote. “A league source confirmed that the situation is definitely trending toward Morris returning before the end of the season.”
While Morris was initially ruled for Saturday’s game against the Timberwolves, which would’ve marked his 59th straight game missed, his status was changed to active just hours before tipoff.
Morris, who signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Heat in August, averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game before getting injured.
Morris Was Cleared Following a ‘Fitness-to-Play Panel’
While Morris wants to play, Miami is hesitant to clear him due to a “liability” issue. Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson previously reported, “The Heat’s specific medical concern with Morris isn’t clear, but the sources said it was significant enough to make the Heat uneasy about clearing him to play, at least to this point, and significant enough to leave the team concerned about liability issues.”
Morris suffered a neck injury and whiplash following his altercation with Jokic, but this isn’t the first time he’s dealt with spine and neck issues. Three years ago, Morris missed six weeks “following a bout of neck and upper back stiffness,” Jackson reported, “that led him to being diagnosed with transient cervical neurapraxia.”
In order for the former first-round pick from the 2011 NBA Draft to get the green light to return, Reynolds reported that “one of the final steps in the process toward a return came this week when Morris’ case was heard by the NBA’s Fitness-to-Play Panel, consisting of three physicians who determine if a player is, as described by the league’s collective bargaining agreement, ‘medically able and medically fit to practice and play.’
“That panel determined that Morris can indeed return, and the belief is that sometime during the remainder of Miami’s current homestand — Saturday against Minnesota, Tuesday against Detroit or next Friday against Oklahoma City — the 11-season veteran will be available to play.”
Morris’ Return Will Bolster the Heat’s Depth at Power Forward
The Heat have obviously been managing just fine without Morris, Miami currently sits in first place atop the Eastern Conference with a 45-23 record. But his return will provide depth behind starting power forward P.J. Tucker, and a 6-foot-9, he’s presents a physically bigger presence than that of Caleb Martin.
Hopefully, Morris can return soon, as it will offer Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra the ability to get a handle on the rotation before the postseason starts.