The Knicks’ makeover continued Thursday as they beat the deadline and traded leading scorer Marcus Morris.
Hours after agreeing to make Leon Rose president of basketball operations, the Knicks completed a three-team deal to send Morris to the Los Angeles Clippers for Moe Harkless, the Clippers’ 2020 first-round draft pick, the rights to swap 2021 first-round picks with the Clippers, a 2021 second-round pick that the Clippers acquired from the Detroit Pistons and the rights to 2018 Wizards second-round pick Issuf Sanon, a combo guard and native of Ukraine who has yet to play in the NBA.
Morris was the last of seven free agents the Knicks signed last summer in what they hoped would change the franchise’s fortunes after a 17-65 season. While he performed to expectations, the team did not, prompting a coaching change, a front-office clear-out and now a trade of the team’s most consistent player.
Harkless, a Queens product who played at St. John’s, is, like Morris, on an expiring contract. Although he started 38 games for the Clippers this season, he was in place as a salary match for Morris so the Knicks could begin to cash in assets for the failed free-agent haul of summer. The 6-7 Harkless, 26, is averaging 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game this season.
With Rose finalizing a deal to head up the front office, the Knicks had an awkward deadline — keeping Scott Perry as general manager for the time being and leaving him to sort through the deals and make calls even though his time with the team likely is coming to an end.
The Knicks made it clear that Morris would be available despite averaging 19.6 points, shooting 43.9% from three-point range and being a team leader. With the season a disaster, the Knicks sought to turn Morris into a future asset — with the possibility of bringing him back as a free agent in the summer.
“I’ve said it since the day I stepped here, I want to be with the Knicks,” Morris said Monday after what turned out to be his final game with the team. “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.”
When the deadline passed Thursday, he tweeted, “Thank You NewYork! Nothing but love on this side!” He followed that with “They gotta dog in Hollyhood @LAClippers let’s gets it.”
In the days before the deadline, the Knicks engaged a number of contending teams on potential trades for Morris, including the Lakers and Heat. But the Heat dealt for Andre Iguodala on Wednesday, taking them out of the running. The Lakers reportedly bowed out Thursday, refusing to include Kyle Kuzma in a deal, which was the Knicks’ asking price.
“Marcus has been outstanding,” interim coach Mike Miller said Wednesday. “Marcus has — in a lot of ways — a career year. I’ve enjoyed coaching Marcus every day.
''He’s been unbelievable in the locker room. His voice has been such a benefit for our young guys. He’s been through the battles of the NBA and knows how to handle it. His approach has been so good.”
“Definitely going to miss him,” Frank Ntilikina said. “He was a great player, really helping us in the locker room. But this is a business. And we wish him the best of luck moving forward.”
With the Knicks, Morris was paired with Julius Randle as the top offensive options. But for a Clippers squad that already is a title contender, Morris is a luxury, a weapon to complement Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The biggest surprise for the Knicks at the deadline wasn’t that they dealt Morris but that they could not find a taker for their other veterans. The team had listened to offers for Randle and Bobby Portis and sought to move Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock and second-year guard Allonzo Trier.
The trade was just the latest bit of turmoil to hit the Knicks this season.
“It’s been a lot. A lot has been going on,” Ntilikina said. “But it’s, I would say adversity, and adversity helps you grow up, really builds your character, and I’m still here fighting, trying to get better every day. Steve [Mills] came overseas to see me. He made this possible. So I’m really thankful. But like I said before, it’s part of the business and I just got to keep moving forward.”
The return for the Knicks in the deal that sends Marcus Morris to the Los Angeles Clippers:
Forward Moe Harkless
Clippers’ 2020 first-round pick
Swap rights to Clippers’ 2021 first-round pick
Clippers’ 2021 second-round pick, which is from the Pistons
Rights to swingman Issuf Sanon