Auburn Hills — Marcus Morris just needed a chance.
A chance to play more. A chance to start.
A chance for a new start.
In the NBA, though, getting that ideal chance usually means being traded.
When Morris, 26, was dealt from the Phoenix Suns to the Pistons in the summer, it was anything but an amicable breakup.
Morris was leaving his twin brother Markieff and the circumstances around the trade were less than ideal, as Marcus signed a four-year, $20-million contract extension before last season — something of a hometown discount to stay with his brother.
But the Suns, in an effort to try to lure LaMarcus Aldridge, dumped Morris, along with Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger, to the Pistons for a second-round draft pick in 2020. Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy may have made the best move of the offseason in getting Morris, not because he’s the best player, but he may just be the best player for what the Pistons need.
In the two games against the Suns, Morris has played some of his best basketball of the season, with 20 points and six rebounds at Phoenix on Nov. 6 and adding 24 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday’s season sweep.
He’s become a focal point for the Pistons’ offense and has been a workhorse, ranking fourth in the league in minutes — at 37 minutes per game, just ahead of LeBron James.
His chance is here.
“Marcus can do a lot of things and I have to create more and more things for him. He’s a damn-good passer too. We’re really fortunate to have him,” Van Gundy said after Friday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the third straight for the Pistons. “We thought he was good when we got him and he’s better than I thought he was.”
With the increased minutes, Morris’ scoring average (14.8 points) is up as well, more than four points per game better than last season. Even more than the scoring punch, Morris provides a grit and will to win that the Pistons can rally around. While he’s been taking just a couple rests during games, he’s also playing through a sore back, suffered in a collision with Andre Drummond.
He responded with 42 minutes in the big game against his former team.
In many ways, he’s become the do-it-all wing man for the Pistons, moving seamlessly between small forward and power forward, as the need dictates, but thankful nonetheless for the opportunity.
“I’m happy to be here. Just trying to stay aggressive even though sometimes I miss a lot of shots, not just shooting, but getting other players involved and making the right play,” Morris said. “That comes with time and with getting adjusted to a role. It’s the first time I really got to play this many minutes and be able to make mistakes and play through it. It’s definitely a major help for me.”
Morris is playing by far his largest load of minutes in his career — 12 more minutes per game than his previous high last season. When Morris arrived in Detroit, he expected to have a larger workload, but not quite this big.
To maintain it, though, Morris has a whole routine, including soaking in the ice tub and several massages with trainers.
“(Van Gundy) said 30 to 35 minutes — but you never know until you get here,” Morris said. “I’m just blessed to be in a position where I can finally be able to play the game I love and play it to my capabilities.”
Morris’ contributions and grit have made a quick impression on his teammates, who see what he goes through on the court on a nightly basis, but off the court to try to stay in top shape.
“He’s a team guy. He’s going to leave it all on the floor whenever he’s out there,” Drummond said. “For somebody with a sore back, you couldn’t really tell.”
Reggie Jackson was excited when he found out that Morris was coming to the Pistons. Having played pickup games with him, he knew what kind of teammate they were getting and knew that it could be one of the puzzle pieces the team needed.
“I always knew he could put the ball in the basket,” Jackson said. “He just needed an opportunity and once he made the move and I talked to (Van Gundy), I was ecstatic for him to have an opportunity and what he could bring to our team.”
Even without his brother, Morris is cherishing the opportunity to play with the Pistons and to be a valued piece in a starting role. He’s said that he wouldn’t mind playing with Markieff again, but he knows that’s not in the cards right now.
In the meantime, he can just use the opportunity he’s been given to try to make the Pistons a playoff team and deliver on both ends of the floor.
Originally from Philadelphia, he has the same work ethic that Detroit fans can get behind and support.
And the feeling is mutual.
“It’s like 15 million times I’ve said it, but I’m happy to be here,” Morris reiterated Friday.
And Van Gundy is looking like a genius for pulling off the deal, when there were more coveted free agents that the Pistons swung and missed at trying to get.
This one seems to be working out fine, though.
“He’s a true pro and a great competitor, a great guy to have on the team,” Van Gundy said. “We couldn’t be more fortunate that we were able to get that deal.”
Morris got his chance — now he’s giving the Pistons theirs.
Pistons vs. Lakers
Tip-off: 6 Sunday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Outlook: It’s the final trip to The Palace for Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who announced he’s retiring at the end of the season. The Pistons are looking for a sweep in their four-game homestand and a split in the season series vs. the Lakers.