Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr. against the Phoenix Suns at...

Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr. against the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

CLEVELAND — When Marcus Morris finished his postgame interviews late Monday night after helping the Knicks to an overtime win, he extended a hand, shaking hands with the media members still lingering.

It wasn’t something Morris did every night — or actually any other day since he’d arrived as a free agent last summer. But he was aware that Monday could have represented an ending, the last Knicks game before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. And no matter how much he insists that he loves New York and wants to remain — a sentiment expressed by the organization about him, too — he knows that the logical ending might be for him to finish the season someplace else.

“I’m aware of that part,” Morris said. “I’ve said it since the day I stepped here, I want to be with the Knicks. It’s not my call. We’re getting to the deadline. Me personally, I love being here and I want to continue to be here.”

The change at the top of the Knicks' front office with the departure of team president Steve Mills may have sealed the fate of Morris — as well as other veterans. There was some push to keep Morris in place to help the team’s record, but now the focus is on asset acquisition and setting the table for the next management team.

Morris’ value around the league is easy to understand — an efficient scoring veteran averaging nearly 20 points and doing it while shooting from long range better than he ever has in his career.  Perhaps equally important, he was doing it on a one-year, $15 million contract that would allow a contending team to utilize him for a postseason run without a long-term commitment.

That has drawn interest from a number of teams with postseason aspirations in a season that many see as a wide-open path to the NBA title. The Knicks' interest in keeping him is more complicated.

While the team would love for him to be part of the next phase and has expressed interest in signing him to a longer deal, they know they can acquire assets for him now and still be in the market to sign him in the summer. At 15-36 with the playoffs a pipe dream, that would be the most prudent path. And in the summer the Knicks wouldn’t want to overextend the deal for him anyway, thus preserving some flexibility for the 2021 free-agent class rather than going all in with Morris, who will be 31 years old next season.

Morris was the last of seven free agents acquired last summer, only signed after Reggie Bullock’s health issues allowed the team to restructure his contract and Morris reneged on a verbal agreement with the San Antonio Spurs. But since arriving he has been the Knicks' most consistent player and provided a blueprint on how to play in the NBA for the team’s young players.

“I’ll just talk about how valuable he’s been,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “He’s been incredible. And the big thing I’m going to tell you, we’re seeing all the stuff that he does when the lights are on. The stuff that he’s doing behind the scenes, in the locker room, with our young players, the practices, having guys do the workouts that he’s doing, have been unbelievable. He’s had such an impact on those guys. He, as we say, has been a great veteran for these young guys to teach them the way to be successful and build a career.”

One of the things Morris has been talking to those players about is how to handle this time when their life is suddenly rumored to be uprooted.

“I’m a vet. I know how the business goes,” Morris said. “I know things won’t start moving probably until the day of or the day before [the trade deadline]. It’s hard to ignore. I’d be lying if I said I was. At the end of the day, I just keep my head down and continue to go forward. Whatever comes my way I’m going to attack it head on. That’s how I handle it.

“We’ve been talking for a while. At the end of the day, this is their job. Regardless if they go somewhere or they stay here, they still have to continue to work hard and continue to play. It’s tougher for a younger player. For me, I’ve been a lot of places. It’s tougher for a young player to go somewhere and still play. But I told them it’s not the end of the world. They’re still NBA players. If you’re called somewhere else, just continue to work hard and continue to be professional.”

One intriguing possibility for Morris would be to join the Clippers with the Knicks bringing back the expiring contract of forward Mo Harkless and either guard Landry Shamet or a draft pick. A league source said that the Miami Heat also have engaged the Knicks about Morris.

The most likely Knick to be on the move is Allonzo Trier, who has fallen to the bottom of the rotation, and NBA sources indicated there is some interest in Bullock, who is rounding into shape after undergoing a cervical disc surgical procedure in the offseason. Julius Randle, the lone Knicks free-agent pickup with a guaranteed contract for next season, has been discussed in some deals that would allow the Knicks to free up cap space.

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