PHOENIX — Marcus Morris’ initial reaction to questions about Phoenix is a desire to shut down the subject.
“I’ll talk about anything but Phoenix,” he said recently of a time in his career, with his second NBA team, when dysfunction seemed to be the operative word for his 2 ½ seasons as a Sun.
But when the Celtics arrived for Thursday night’s game against the Suns, Morris found himself getting painfully sentimental.
“I almost bought a house here, right before I got traded. Nice house, too,” he said, pausing for a moment before deciding to make something clear.
“You know what? I love Phoenix, I love staying out here, I loved playing with my brother, I loved the city,” said Morris, speaking about his twin Markieff. “It’s a business at the end of the day, and it’s my fault. I enjoyed my time. I can honestly say I enjoyed my time here. I was lucky that they even brought us both together. That’s one thing I appreciate them for.”
There’s regret now, though not necessarily over getting such a short amount of time on the same team as his brother.
“I don’t regret that I didn’t have more time (with Markieff),” he said. “I regret that I settled too soon, not seeing how good I could be, or how much I could do for my own career. When I was here I wasn’t too happy with my playing time. I thought I was better than a couple of guys playing ahead of me. But I thought playing with my brother was above everything. But we’ve gone on to have our own careers.”
Morris was concerned about his image after joining the Celtics and said so last fall, admitting in one of his first press scrums to concern that his reputation was sullied.
Assault charges were in the process of being dropped against the Morris twins, stemming from an incident involving a former associate in Phoenix. There was an ugly video of a verbal clash in the huddle between Morris and Jeff Hornacek, after the Suns coach pulled him out of a game for picking up a technical foul. He had issues with management, and in July 2015 was traded to Detroit. Markieff, who had issues of his own with management and was fined $10,000 for publicly demanding a trade that fall, was traded to Washington in February 2016.
“I still feel like that now. I feel like people don’t want to let it go,” he said, while admitting his time as a Celtic has helped him move on in at least one respect. “Yeah, as far as game-wise. I never felt I was any of that — just that that’s how people portrayed me. But that’s how it goes with the media.”
Morris made the most of his time in Detroit, emerging as a skilled swing forward who, as it has turned out with the Celtics, is only now starting to show his polish and a desire to get better. Injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving enabled Morris to step into a larger role last season. With both players back at the top of the rotation, Morris responded by getting better.
As valuable as Morris became last season as a microwave-style scorer, he looked a little wild with the ball. His willingness to shoot also filled a big need on a team prone to Sahara-sized scoring droughts.
But faced with the inevitability of a re-defined bench role, Morris identified a weakness
“End of the day, going into the offseason I wanted to be a better 3-point shooter,” he said. “I wanted to be way more efficient. I wanted to play off these guys and improve my dribble and score easier, and that’s showing. I put a lot of time into working on my handle, working on my 3-point shot. Got my body together. But it’s all come down to what I’m showing now. I’m in great shape, lot more flexible. My preparation this summer is why I’m so successful right now.”
He leads the Celtics in 3-point shooting (49 percent), is second (to Al Horford) in two-point percentage (52.8), and third in scoring (14.2) as a sixth man. Gone, for the most part, is a bent for taking off-balance jumpers.
Morris decided he needed a better foundation on his jumper, and studied the footwork of Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell.
“I was an average shooter,” Morris said. “But I watched a lot of film on other great shooters, and I changed my base, because I was off-balance on a lot of my jumpers and a lot of my 3’s. That’s one thing I changed. My release is a lot quicker, and my motion is a lot less. I’m shooting from a lot deeper, with a lot more confidence. It’s a lot easier, a lot more efficient, a lot more fluid.”
Thinking back to Phoenix, Morris regrets “not seeing how good I could be.”
He’s still down on former Suns management, referring to the recently fired Ryan McDonough when he said, “The GM who was there isn’t here now, so I can speak good of it again.
“I loved being here. I’ve never said anything nice about Phoenix since I left, but I’m past that, man,” he said. “I’ve got a child now, looking at my future, moving on. I did appreciate having my brother on the same team — the weather, great city.”