As the Phoenix Suns near the regular season opener, any 2014-15 preview, reputable or otherwise, seems to carry a common theme. The backcourt is gravy -- possibly too much gravy -- but the frontcourt is frighteningly thin and full of question marks. How curious it is, then, that the Suns decided to forgo the last season of the Morris twins' contracts and plunk $52 million on extending them for four more years, beginning in 2015 -- especially when you factor in the decision to avoid a bidding war with Orlando for the services of Channing Frye.
Bear in mind that this is not a claim that the Morris Bros aren't worth their price. Markieff will be depended upon for his newfound penchant for creating offense from the midrange in, and Marcus proved to be a deadeye long-range shooter in a system that always will reward deadeye long-range shooting.
But why now?
While the twins both dramatically improved their value in 2013-14, the missing link on this team, according to pretty much anyone who is vaguely familiar with the Suns franchise in its current state, is a game-changer up front. So why preemptively stake $52 million on a pair of forwards that fail to fit the bill a full season before they enter free agency? Wouldn't another year's worth of sample size be beneficial to arriving at a more well-informed negotiating platform?
Even the twins themselves were caught off-guard with the Suns' sudden urgency to extend their contracts. This was a move that no one was expecting, and considering the shape that the roster has been taking over the last 12 months, it only adds to the Suns' predicament of finding adequate minutes for the talented roster they have assembled.
The Suns' roster is an unusual one. There is no legitimate star on board, but from 1-12 there is a wealth of talented, hard-working players. Some are young, some are not-so-young, but all seem to be willing to fight for any inch they can possibly claim.
When Isaiah Thomas was added to the fold, the team sent a clear signal that the dual-PG system was not going anywhere. In turn, this placed an immediate squeeze on the wing positions. As currently constructed, Thomas figures to be accounting for lion's share of the minutes left available when either of the two starting guards, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, leave the game. While this is indeed a scintillating prospect -- and possibly a brilliant one to boot -- it leaves one of last year's heroes, Gerald Green, without a position.
The Suns made it clear that the Morris twins are a package deal when they allowed them to distribute their $52 million extension as they saw fit. Markieff took $32 million, Marcus the remaining $20 million. From this, it can be deduced that Marcus' greatest asset is his twin brother, as it seems highly unlikely that he would garner a four-year contract on the open market based on his play alone.
The center and power forward spots look to be dominated minutes-wise by a combination of Markieff Morris, Anthony Tolliver, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len. If this indeed holds true, it would mean that Marcus will be acquiring his minutes at small forward, along with newly re-signed P.J. Tucker. The problem here is that once the small forward position is designated as the only true wing spot in this convoluted roster, there are simply not enough minutes to accommodate the talent on hand.
Given the hard-nosed defense of P.J. Tucker and Zoran Dragic, plus the tantalizing potential of T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin, the demand for minutes at the wing doesn't look to be diminishing in the near future. Might it have been prudent to allow another year of review on the Morris twins before cementing their spots in the rotation, considering the burgeoning prospects that will eventually need to see time on the court?
And then there is Gerald Green. By virtually every form of measure, Green had a more positive impact on the court than Marcus Morris last season. The statistical comparison between the two is highly appropriate given that their roles were quite similar last season, and Green excelled in nearly all categories relevant to scoring.
- PER: Green 16.5, Marcus 14.8
- TS%: Green .585, Marcus . 552
- eFG%: Green .547, Marcus .518
- Win Shares: Green 6.1, Marcus 4.2
- WS/48: Green .126, Marcus .111
Marcus bested Green in rebounding -- which should be a foregone conclusion given his the time he spent at the 4 -- and narrowly edged him in AST%, TOV% and FTr. Surprisingly, Green actually blocked more shots than Marcus. 0.6 to 0.4, per 36 minutes.
Yet it doesn't appear that Green will have the luxury of a contract extension falling in his lap a year early. Quite the contrary, he remains the only key contributor from last year's team that is currently not on anyone's books for the 2015-16 season.
He is the proverbial odd man out, and in all fairness he should have been given another year to make his case for the contract that prematurely went to Marcus. It could be that he is simply a victim of his age -- he'll be 29 this time next year, and the Suns seem hell-bent on stocking the roster full of players in their prime years.
The Suns clearly value the Morri -- this isn't the first time that they have given them a preemptive vote of confidence. Last season they picked up the twins' team options for 2014-15, despite the fact that at the time they were both some of the worst rotation players in the NBA, production-wise. Clearly there is something about these guys that tickles the front office's fancy, and thus they should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, they have rewarded the Suns' faith once already.
The Suns also had quite a rocky venture this past summer. They entered the offseason with three key players entering free agency -- Tucker, Frye, and of course Bledsoe. They were outbid for Frye, they endured a months-long stalemate with Bledsoe before their hand was forced by the threat of his qualifying offer, and only Tucker was signed in a neat and timely fashion. Perhaps they wanted to nip their 2015 free agents in the bud in light of recent events.
Despite the skills of the Wonder Twins, it seems a bit overzealous to invest so much so soon when there are a number of players on this team that might make a great case for increased roles over the following 82 regular season games. Furthermore, if the team's weakness indeed lies in the frontcourt, why the rush to solidify the incumbent talent when it's in imminent need of an upgrade?
Surely they have their reasons ... but their logic is a bit on the murky side at present. It might only become murkier as the roster takes shape after the start of the season.