SAN ANTONIO — Spurs fans probably will add the name of Marcus Morris to their list of players – topped by Kawhi Leonard, of course – they’ll boo lustily whenever their teams play at the AT&T Center this season.
Unless you’ve been out in the boonies by yourself and without a phone, TV or newspaper this week, you probably know that Morris, a power forward who averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds with Boston last season, reneged on an agreement to sign a two-year, $20 million contract with San Antonio.
Morris, an unrestricted free agent, created a buzz last week when he committed to the Spurs. But by Tuesday, reports surfaced that he was reconsidering his decision to come to the Alamo City and was leaning strongly toward signing with the New York Knicks.
The Spurs pulled their offer to Morris on Thursday and came to terms with another free agent, former Denver power forward Trey Lyles, who signed a two-year contract Friday. The financial terms of the deal were not immediately known.
Morris, who played the last two seasons with the Celtics, spurned the Silver and Black to sign a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. For good reason, Morris’ decision to ditch the Silver and Black for the Knicks was met with surprise around the NBA.
Sure, Morris’ contract with the Knicks will pay him $5 million more – for one season – than he would have made in his first year with San Antonio. But there’s no comparison between the two franchises. New York has missed the playoffs each of the last six seasons, and San Antonio made the postseason for the 22nd consecutive year this spring, tying a league record.
Morris tried to be diplomatic after he withdrew his commitment to the Spurs, saying it was nothing personal. “I had to make this decision based on the best situation for me and my family,” he said. “This is no knock on the Spurs. I have respect for them.”
To be sure, Morris’ decision to go back on his commitment dealt the Spurs a tough blow and put the damper on an offseason that was turning out quietly successful.
In addition to not getting Morris, a tough, physical and talented player who would have fit in well with the Silver and Black, the Silver and Black also parted with one of their top three-point shooters, Davis Bertans, to make room for Morris. With Bertans gone in a trade with Washington, it’s like San Antonio suffered a double whammy.
For now, at least, the Spurs are left hoping that the return of point guard Dejounte Murray, re-signing of forward Rudy Gay and addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll, another veteran forward, will be enough for them to stay competitive in the NBA’s ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Before Morris changed his mind about signing with the Spurs, I wrote that the upgrade of their roster this offseason gave them a legitimate chance of finishing among the top four teams in the West. With Morris out of the equation, I believe that’s a stretch now.
Carroll, 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, is a 10-year NBA veteran who turns 33 on July 27. He averaged 11.1 points and 5.2 rebounds for Brooklyn last season.
As reiterated here the other day, the Silver and Black will become a stronger team the moment Murray, who missed the 2018-19 season with a knee injury, steps back on the floor. Murray has done exceedingly well during his long, arduous rehabilitation and should be good to go for the start of training camp in late September.
A gritty player, Carroll is expected to help shore up a Spurs defense that was woefully inconsistent last season. Morris (6-9, 235) probably would have started and made the defense that much tougher. But that’s a moot point now.
Lyles (6-10, 234) is no Morris, but he has some upside. Only 23, Lyles was selected by Utah with the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He played two seasons for the Jazz before getting traded to Denver in a 2017 draft-night deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to Utah.
Lyles, who turns 24 on Nov. 5, averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds for the Nuggets last season. He shot only 41.8 percent from the field and was a career-low 25.5 percent from beyond the arc. So, his game needs some work. But given the Spurs’ history of developing young players, Lyles could wind up playing himself into the rotation and giving the frontcourt some much-needed depth.
Given the strength of the West, the Silver and Black will need Lyles to bounce back from his subpar season in 2018-19 and start contributing sooner rather than later.
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