-- Markieff Morris has confirmed what we already suspected. On Tuesday, the disgruntled Phoenix Suns forward told his hometown Philadelphia Inquirer he expected to be traded, saying, "One thing for sure, I am not going to be there."
The Suns still have control over Morris' future, since he's just starting the below-market four-year, $32 million extension he signed last fall that is the source of his discontentment. (Morris and his twin brother Marcus simultaneously extended their contracts in the expectation they would remain together. Phoenix subsequently traded Marcus to the Detroit Pistons this summer.) Markieff was clear that he wouldn't hold out if no trade came, but the Suns may not be eager to bring an unhappy player into their locker room, which would make a trade the best outcome for them too.
Finding the right deal for Morris is tricky. Phoenix doesn't have a replacement for him in the starting lineup at power forward currently on the roster, and after signing veteran center Tyson Chandler it doesn't make sense for the Suns to take a step back this season. They want to win now to enhance their chances of landing a top free agent in the summer of 2016, when they've structured the contracts of several players -- including Morris -- to temporarily descend. As a result, Phoenix can clear max-level cap space while keeping core starters Chandler, Morris, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.
To stick to the 2016 plan, the Suns must find a replacement for Morris who will count against the cap at Morris' 2016-17 salary (a bargain $7.4 million) or less. They might be able to get that because Morris' extension has become such a good value with the cap exploding. I project his production as worth about $16 million more than his contract over just the first three seasons. But it's unclear how much other teams might discount that value because of Morris' checkered history, including pending felony assault charges fro m a January incident. Taking those considerations in mind, here are some realistic options for a Morris trade.
Why it works: In many respects, the Celtics are the ideal suitor for Morris. They can offer Phoenix a replacement big man on a rookie contract -- most likely Sullinger, who's fallen out of favor in Boston, though Kelly Olynyk or even Tyler Zeller would work too -- and sweeten the deal with their war chest of draft picks if necessary. The Celtics get the certainty of Morris' extension as opposed to the unknown of what Sullinger's next deal might look like.
Why it doesn't: The biggest obstacle to a trade with Boston is salary. Sullinger is making just $2.6 million in the final season of his rookie deal, meaning the Celtics would have to aggregate three players to make a deal work. It's unclear whether Boston is willing to give up on Young -- a first-round pick just 14 months ago -- so soon. If the Celtics were really planning to make a deal for Morris, they almost certainly would have held on to Zoran Dragic, who could have been the third player needed to make the salaries work.
Why it works: The Hornets are already close to all-in on a 2015-16 playoff run, so why not push some more chips to the center of the table? This trade would upgrade their power forward spot in exchange for the Suns getting two years of rookie contract from Zeller, the former No. 4 overall pick.
Why it doesn't: Both teams have to trust ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) more about the player they're getting than the one they're giving up. While Morris and Zeller had modest box-score stats, they ranked among the top 10 power forwards in RPM. Zeller was fourth overall.
Why it works: The Suns get an intriguing second-year power forward as a replacement for Morris. The Lakers get certain production as opposed to the question marks around Randle after he missed nearly his entire rookie season with a fractured tibia, as well as a veteran who might appeal to more to targets in free agency.
Why it doesn't: It's hard to imagine the Lakers giving up Randle, one of a handful of promising young players on their roster. This deal would also cut into their own cap space for the summer of 2016, which they've been patiently hoarding the last two summers. So it's probably a non-starter.
Offer: PF Noah Vonleh
Net value: $11.5 million
Why it works: This trade would have to tempt the Blazers. As promising as Vonleh is -- he just had an impressive performance at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas -- he's still coming off a rookie season where he played just 259 minutes. Adding Morris might push Portland into playoff contention, and at 25 (he'll be 26 next month), he's the same age as Blazers star Damian Lillard.
Why it doesn't: Vonleh is probably too much of a short-term downgrade for Phoenix to make this deal, despite his potential.
Offer: PF Patrick Patterson
Net value: $19.5 million
Why it works: Legendary sabermetrician Bill James coined the term "challenge trade" for when teams swap players at the same position, hoping to win the exchange of similar talents. Patterson and Morris have largely the same strengths and weaknesses, making this something of a personality/contract challenge trade. The Suns would hope Patterson's stability would offset any downgrade in talent, while the Raptors would be getting the longer and better contract.
Why it doesn't: Conventional wisdom holds that Morris is the better player in this swap because of his ability to create his own shot. But that isn't especially important to Toronto, which has plenty of creators, and Patterson was the more efficient scorer and a slightly better rebounder. So the Raptors might just prefer to keep him and not deal with Morris.