Since signing their big extensions in October, fully guaranteeing them $56 million between now and 2019, the Phoenix Suns' Morris twins are taking a blowtorch to the NBA landscape.
They don't like the media, they don't like the fans and they don't like the referees.
They may not like their coach either.
The fight with the coach was in January. Then came the technical/benching drama that eventually blew up in the coaches' faces as they had to back off after losing games because of it without having taught the players any life lessons.
Since then, the Morrii continue to rack up technicals. Markieff leads the league in Ts (13), fragrant fouls (3) and ejections (2). Marcus is 6th with 9 Ts, though he has yet to be ejected by the officials.
I wouldn't call that "lesson learned" from earlier technical foul policy.
Even just last week, they apparently had to have a players-only meeting last week to re-commit to the coach.
The Suns held a players meeting at the Wednesday shootaround about their 1-8 stretch and taking advantage of still being within striking distance of a playoff spot. The Suns won at Denver that night and moved to 5-9 in the second games of back-to-back sets by beating Oklahoma City on Thursday. "We just needed to know what it takes to get over the hump," Bledsoe said. "Everybody bought in and that was the big in — to buy into Coach H (Hornacek)."
--Bledsoe to Paul Coro, azcentral.com, after the OKC win
But since the two-game winning streak, the Suns have embarrassed themselves by their own lack of effort in two straight ugly 17+ point losses to eminently beatable teams.
And finally, they didn't appear to part on friendly terms with teammate Goran Dragic, one of the nicest guys ever to wear a Suns uniform, if Monday's game is any indication.
Outside that play, which got Markieff ejected from the game, Dragic said yesterday he's still sore from a body blow delivered by Marcus in the first half as they went for a loose ball and on yet another fast break Marcus delivered a glance to the head of Dragic as he flew by. It's just that it wasn't accompanied by a hip check, so there was no flagrancy on the foul.
To recap: the Morris twins have had problems with
- the coach
- the media
- other players
Besides each other, just who DO the Morris twins like, or respect?
About the only group to whom they have NOT taken a blowtorch this season is to the Suns' front office. I guess they are grateful for being paired up in 2013 and re-signed in 2014 to long-term contracts.
After trading Goran Dragic last week, the Suns have put most of their eggs into the Morris' basket as the Faces of the Franchise.
Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len, players with the brightest futures, are too quiet to be faces of the franchise this year. P.J. Tucker and Brandan Knight don't play big enough roles to be faces of the franchise.
That leaves the Morris twins, who may just have more technical fouls than 48-minute all-out effort games. And now their coach is calling them and everyone else on the roster out for lazy play.
"We have to find out who on this team is going to be tough," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "In terms of going after balls, we are soft going after everything. Teams just take the ball out of our hands. Maybe they grab your arm but you have to be tougher than that. I don't know what it is but, when teams get physical, we look like a high school team. We have to get tougher and we have to find tougher guys who are going to battle. I get tired of watching us not go after balls. There is nothing worse to me than being soft and not going after a ball.
"In the second half, we showed some fight. We waited three quarters of getting pushed in the back before we decided to do anything about it."
Imagine how that makes the Morrii feel, in particular, to hear their coach call them soft. They must be shocked, but then again he's been calling them out directly and indirectly all season for their play on the court.
Markieff is rebounding at a career low rate this year, despite playing the most minutes of his career. Several times, the coach has been asked about this, and his common response is that rebounding is all about effort. He says that Keef and others need to be willing to get dirty, to throw their body into the other guys to establish position and grab the rebound with both hands. Judging by the above quote, nothing has changed.
To be fair, the coach has also praised the twins when they've played well and appreciated their offseason work ethic and dedication to the game.
But he doesn't like "soft".
Many of you likely don't remember Hornacek as a player in the 80s and 90s. The NBA was a much tougher league back then. Remember Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason? Remember the Detroit Bad Boys? The Celtics were no pushovers. The league was run by toughness and spirited defense. The players were thicker back then, much more able to body each other up and knock each other down.
And through that, Jeff Hornacek thrived as a 6'3", 180 pound shooting guard. He was a 13 year starter who helped two different teams to Conference Finals and the Jazz went all the way to the NBA Finals twice before succumbing to the Bulls.
It's no wonder he's questioning the effort level of these guys. They are bigger and stronger than he ever was, but Hornacek will be the first to tell you it's not about height and weight. It's about effort.
And that leaves the Suns with a big problem.
The Suns are not a tough team, no matter how mean the Morris 'mug' might indicate otherwise.
Drawing technical fouls does not make you a tough team. Fighting for rebounds and loose balls and putting in consistent defensive effort makes you a tough team. The Suns don't do that.
All is not lost, though.
Markieff Morris began the year on a tear, putting up 15 points and 6 rebounds per game as the starting power forward but more than that was the team's best clutch player and had a plus/minus of +10 per 100 possessions through the first three months. That means the Suns would score 10% more points than their opponents when he was on the floor. That's a big margin.
Marcus Morris began the year in the starting lineup, and moved to the bench without a single negative word and continues to put up 10 points and 4 rebounds a game in about 22 minutes.
In fact, one area the Morrii shine (besides step-back midrange jumpers) is that they never, ever complain about roles or minutes. Keef spent all last season coming off the bench without a negative peep despite outplaying Frye. Marcus has come off the bench for the last two years except for the first month this season, and never once complained about minutes before, during or after that stint.
They are good players who just need to stop pointing fingers at everyone else for their shortcomings or for the Suns' lack of recent wins. And if they insist on pointing fingers, they should find a mirror.
The Morris twins, along with several other Suns players, need to realize that NBA wins don't come without all-out effort all the time.
And that life is a lot simpler when you stop constantly trying to pick fights.