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Markieff Morris wanted more from his time with the Thunder, individually and as a team

Markieff Morris’ two months with the Thunder didn’t go as he expected when he chose OKC back in February. Not as a team. Not individually.

“As far as the organization, I loved being around these guys every day,” Morris said during exit interviews last month. “I loved coming in and working with the training staff every day. I think it's really professional here. I think it's top-notch, and I think basketball didn't work out for me as I wanted it to, but this was the best stop of my career as far as everything else.”

By the Thunder’s last game of the postseason, it was clear that OKC’s and Morris’ needs didn’t quite align. While the Thunder did lack frontcourt depth before it signed Morris during the All-Star break, it was even thinner on the wings. Morris immediately absorbed power forward Patrick Patterson’s minutes, but after a short-lived playoff run in which he averaged 11 minutes per game, Morris’s usage left him wanting more.

“If I'm playing the same minutes, then I probably won't be back here,” Morris said. “I'm just going to be honest. I thought I could have brought more to the team.”

Morris enters free agency this summer.

“The buyout thing is always hard in my opinion,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “… You compete for these guys and you get them, but assimilating them in, there's no science to it.”

Enes Kanter is the prime example of a success story. The Knicks released the former Thunder center after he played in just three of his his final 12 games with the franchise. With the playoffs out of sight for New York, it played its youth.

Kanter signed with Portland, and about a month into his tenure with the Trail Blazers, starting center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending leg injury. Kanter slid into the starting lineup. In 11 playoff games he’s averaging a double-double (13 points, 10.4 rebounds).

Wesley Matthews, who Presti twice brought up in his end of season press conference, ended up in Indiana. There, he immediately joined the starting lineup.

But both those teams had a starting spot open due to injury.

Morris’s own injury history complicated his situation. When Morris joined the Thunder, he hadn’t played an NBA game for nearly two months due to a neck injury. That helped make him available for a team like the Thunder that could only offer minutes off the bench. He was cleared to play, but his transition onto a new team was also a transition back into basketball.

OKC integrated Morris by throwing him into the rotation and letting the eight-year veteran find his way. He shot about his career average from 3-point range (33.9 percent). But after shooting 31.4 percent on pull-up 2-point shots for the Wizards in the first half of the season, Morris’ efficiency with that same shot dropped to 18.2 percent with the Thunder, according to NBA.com.

The Thunder also experimented with small ball lineups that moved Morris to center, giving him more time on the floor than backup center Nerlens Noel. Morris didn’t impress enough, especially defensively, to merit taking away any of starting power forward Jerami Grant’s minutes.

OKC had needed Morris more a week before he arrived, when Grant missed two games due to a right ankle sprain.

“I thought he played much better toward the end of the season,” Presti said of Morris. “The one thing I think he brings to the team, or any team, and one thing I think we need is he brings an edge. He brings a physicality. He brings a toughness and a competitive maturity.”

Morris played just four minutes in Game 5 of the Thunder’s first round matchup with the Trial Blazers, OKC’s last playoff game of the year. That, Morris’ twin brother, Celtics forward Marcus Morris, called “a slap in the face” in an interview with the Athletic.

For Markieff Morris, it at least wasn't what he had envisioned.

“I just came to be a vet,” Morris said back in February, during his first media session as a Thunder player. “I just came to try to help the team push to the ultimate goal, and that’s winning a championship. I’m just ready to play, man. I’m excited to be here.”

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Thunder-A-Day

This is Day 9 of The Oklahoman's Thunder-A-Day series, assessing the OKC roster entering the offseason. Up next:

Tuesday: Abdel Nader

Wednesday: Paul George

Thursday: Nerlens Noel

Friday: Patrick Patterson

Saturday: Andre Roberson

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris, right, hoped to play more than he did after joining the team. Morris is uncertain if he will return to the Thunder next season. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris, right, hoped to play more than he did after joining the team. Morris is uncertain if he will return to the Thunder next season. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f17c5537b7fa6a212835e5991e7d1362.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris, right, hoped to play more than he did after joining the team. Morris is uncertain if he will return to the Thunder next season. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris, right, hoped to play more than he did after joining the team. Morris is uncertain if he will return to the Thunder next season. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris, right, hoped to play more than he did after joining the team. Morris is uncertain if he will return to the Thunder next season. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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