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Which Playoff Contender Needs to Win the Markieff Morris Sweepstakes the Most?

The Lakers, Rockets, and Raptors are all in the running for the tough power forward, who is at the top of the post–trade deadline free-agent market

You probably know Markieff Morris best from his acrimonious ending in Phoenix in 2016. A professional relationship with the Suns general manager at the time, Ryan McDonough, was pulverized when McDonough crossed a familial relationship. The front office traded Morris’s twin, Marcus, in 2015; an unhappy Markieff was dealt the season after to the Wizards (which is why you haven’t heard much about him since). The brothers felt it was an unforgivable betrayal, and clung to their grudge like it was Seth Curry’s shorts. But that’s also who Morris is: An antagonistic power forward with a bellicose manner. He whips up a fresh grudge every game—or even every possession.

Washington traded Morris to New Orleans before the deadline, and he was waived shortly thereafter. On Monday, he was cleared to play for the first time since December 26, when he was diagnosed with transient cervical neuropraxia after a neck injury. Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto all want to sign Morris, according to Chris Haynes, who got the info directly from agent Rich Paul. (Putting it all out there is Klutch Sports’ 2019 game plan.) Each playoff team—let’s give the Lakers the benefit of the doubt because of LeBron James and LeBron James only—could use a bully off the bench. Here is the argument for each contender needing Morris the most:

The Lakers Need Morris the Most

Have you watched the Lakers lately? Morris averaged just 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in Washington this season, his lowest since his sophomore season, but would bring the type of immeasurable toughness L.A. desperately needs. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram make up two-fifths of the starting lineup and look passive in 27th-overall pick Kyle Kuzma’s shot-happy shadow. (To make matters worse, Ball is currently injured.) Midseason addition Tyson Chandler is a Captain America shield when he sets screens, but the 36-year-old is averaging only 17.7 minutes per game. James needs aggressive players around him more than ever; at 34, coming off a groin injury, and with a whole lot of catching up to do in the West, he’s recently taken to quarterbacking passes rather than devoting all his energy to the plays that can survive without him. (Right now, those are few.)

James also needs shooting help. Before Ball’s injury, the 21-year-old point guard was taking 9.7 shots a game, while Morris was averaging nearly the same at 9.6. It circles back to aggression, and a willingness to shoot your shot—a task only Kuzma, who takes the most field goal attempts after James, seems up to. Morris is a 33 percent 3-point shooter this season, but was hitting a respectable 36.7 percent in 2017-18. And the Lakers are in no position to be picky as one of the worst-performing teams behind the arc.

The Rockets Need Morris the Most

Houston’s former coterie of skilled bench players, all with the common mission of pace-and-space, has broken up over the past two seasons. Players were dealt or allowed to leave to make room for major pieces, and suddenly the Rockets find themselves in enough injury trouble that they’re missing guys like Danuel House. (No offense to Danuel, but the closest he’s gotten to being a household name is his last name being the first syllable in that expression.) The Rockets last month signed and resuscitated Kenneth Faried, who is averaging 16.3 points on a career-high 30.2 minutes while Clint Capela is out and Nene … is still 36 years old. P.J. Tucker, who’s started every game for the Rockets this season and has logged the most total minutes on the team, is averaging 6.4 points over the past 15 games. James Harden’s run of 30 games with 30 or more points factors into the rest of the roster’s reduced scoring, but Morris is good frontcourt scoring protection if the Rockets, remarkably shorthanded for being fifth in the West, need it.

The Raptors Need Morris the Most

This would be the rich getting richer, sure. The Raptors just added Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin to their bench—yes, Gasol is coming off the bench—and would use Morris to relieve a player who turned out to be the Eastern Conference’s Most Pleasant Surprise, former bench player Pascal Siakam. Morris is a luxury, not a necessity. However, Toronto requires the constant reassurance of checking and double-checking all boxes. They’re needy because they’re scarred, and they’re scarred because they’ve never had enough to make it out of the East. This might be Kawhi Leonard’s only year in Toronto, and Morris could help make sure it counts.