By Michael Kinney
The news crept out right before the all-star break, but the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t make it official until Wednesday. Markieff Morris is now a member of the Thunder after signing him to a contract for the rest of the 2019 season.
Morris was a heavily sought-after commodity. Once the veteran big man completed his buyout from the Washington Wizards, he had his pick of a number of teams to play for to close out the 2019 season.
But for Morris, it came down to where he felt comfortable and where he could contribute.
“You can just see the passion they play with, the smiles, how happy they are for each other when the other one is going good,” Morris said Thursday after his first practice. “That as a player, that’s one of the best things you look for when you’re trying to pick a team, the family atmosphere and how guys feel about each other.”
Morris fits a few of the holes in the Thunder lineup they had been looking to fill. At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, he beefs up the Oklahoma City frontcourt. He has the ability to defend the center and power forward spot as well as some small forward.
“Markieff has always looked at himself as a defensive-orientated player that can guard a lot of different positions,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s got the ability to move his feet and play people on the perimeter and I think he’s got the size, the strength and the physicality to play guys from the low post.”
However, playing time won’t just be given to him. Because the frontcourt already contains Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Abdel Nader, he will have to work his way into the rotation.
“Kieff is battle-tested. He’s a playoff player,” Paul George said. “He has that toughness and that experience coming towards the playoffs. So our job for right now is to get him comfortable with us, get him used to the swing of things, our offense, our defense, because we’re going to need him. He’s a bigtime player come playoff time.”
In his 555 career games heading into Friday night’s action, Morris has a career average of 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists. This season with the Wizards, he appeared in 34 games (15 starts) and averaged 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 26.0 minutes.
Because of his tenure in the NBA Morris was already well known by several members of the Thunder. SO there was a whole lot of trying to figure things out.
“We welcomed him with open arms,” George said. “We had fun, walked him through plays and stuff, so he’s up to speed. But that was mostly everything that we wanted to give him. He’s a baller, he knows how to play. We just wanted to make him feel comfortable right away and just welcome him.”
Oklahoma City will be Morris’ third team since being drafted with the 13th overall pick in 2011 out of Kansas.
Because of his time in the Big 12 and years in the league, Morris said he is well associated with the fans in Oklahoma.
“The atmosphere is unbelievable. Every time I came to play here I always said this is one of the toughest places to play,” Morris said. “It’s right up the street from Kansas, so I’ve been here plenty of times and I’ve played here over 20 times when I was in college, so I’m used to it.”
Like many players on Thunder, Morris has yet to win an NBA title. He is hoping he can be the final piece needed to get them across the finish line.
I just came to try to help the team push to the ultimate goal and that’s winning a championship,” Morris said. “I’m just ready to play man. I’m excited to be here. I know a bunch of guys on the team already and I’m ready to go.”
Michael Kinney is a freelance content provider