Few lineups or combinations have topped out as any higher than mediocre for the Knicks this season, but one is worth noting.
In the eight games that Marcus Morris has missed, the Knicks are 1-7, losing those seven games by an average of 21.6 points. So when they got Morris back in the starting lineup Thursday night against the Suns after he missed five straight games with a sore neck, it was a relief to interim coach Mike Miller.
“He brings a lot,” Miller said. “I think the biggest thing is, he’s a proven veteran that has playoff experience. He’s had an outstanding NBA career. He’s the ultimate professional. He has helped our young guys every day. So I think going out with the guy on your side like that, I think it helps a lot.
“I think it helps us mentally and then obviously what he’s doing, he’s having a great year. He’s doing so many things for us. He’s been so efficient. He played so consistently. We’re excited to get him healthy and get him back out there.”
The problem is, just how long will Morris be around for the Knicks?
He was the last of the seven free agents to sign with them, slipping out of a verbal commitment with the Spurs for a two-year, $20 million deal. Instead, he signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Knicks when Reggie Bullock’s injury reduced the Knicks’ commitment from a two-year, $21 million deal to a $4 million deal with a team option for next year. That opened cap space.
That bet on himself has paid off, with Morris averaging a team-high 19.1 points per game and converting 46.9% from beyond the arc. In his last game before sitting out, he scored a career-high 38 points in a loss to the Clippers.
Those numbers likely will earn him a big payday next summer in a much less crowded free-agent market. His play also has made him a target of inquiry from contending teams around the NBA convinced that he would serve a much better purpose for a playoff-bound team.
The problem for the Knicks and Miller is that Morris has proved valuable in the effort to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that won only 17 games last season. The 11-30 mark the Knicks took into the halfway point of the season did little to change the perception around the NBA. If those eight games in which Morris was sidelined are an indication, losing him would have them struggling to reach last season’s 17 victories.
Asked if he has pleaded his case to keep Morris in town past the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Miler said with a smile, “I think obviously he’s valued by our organization.”
Notes & quotes: Bullock was held out with a sore neck. Dennis Smith Jr. again was sidelined with an oblique strain. Frank Ntilikina returned to action after missing the previous two games with a sore groin . . . Kenny Wooten, who was signed to a two-way contract Tuesday, practiced with the team Wednesday, which counts as a day against his NBA allotment. He was not with the Knicks on Thursday, instead practicing with the G League Westchester Knicks and planning to play with them Friday.