The arms race in Los Angeles continues to tip further in the Clippers' direction.
Following an offseason that included an intense fight to sign Kawhi Leonard — one that ruffled a few feathers within the Lakers organization after Leonard took his time and ultimately picked the Clippers — the LA teams continued their off-court battle by chasing similar trade and buyout targets. Both organizations know their rosters are far from perfect, and that's what made the past two weeks so important.
The Clippers, while incredibly deep, have issues defensively in the paint and lack a true point guard. The Lakers, even with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, seem a man short of being considered championship favorites. Outside of that star duo, Kyle Kuzma is the only Laker averaging double-digit points per game (12.6).
Enter Marcus Morris. The 30-year old hadn't received much publicity due to the fact that he'd been playing for a franchise so inept that it fired the team president two days before the trade deadline, but his play made him a hot commodity, particularly with the trade market holding less star power than usual.
Morris' skill set works well in today's NBA. He's a bigger wing (6-8, 235 pounds) that can defend multiple positions. He also provides shooting from deep. In 43 games with the Knicks, Morris shot 43.9 percent from 3-point range on 6.1 attempts per game.
Both teams knew adding Morris would bolster their rosters and, perhaps more importantly, keep him away from a primary Western Conference rival.
The Clippers won out. Again.
It's a big pickup for the Clippers. It's also a tough pill to swallow for James and the Lakers.
Morris is an immediate upgrade over Moe Harkless. Defensively, he can handle the same assignments as Harkless, but it's the offensive side of the ball where Morris becomes a clear upgrade. With the Knicks, Morris averaged a career-high 19.6 points per game. And while he won't have the same offensive responsibilities with the Clippers, he gives coach Doc Rivers another weapon to use in the starting five or as part of bench units.
With Harkless on the court alongside Ivica Zubac and Patrick Beverley, defenses were able to pack the paint and turn their focus toward Leonard and Paul George. Morris will create more space offensively and prevent opponents from loading up on the star forwards.
Morris also brings toughness to a Clippers team looking to reach the NBA Finals. In just three games in a Clippers uniform, Morris has already shown his willingness to mix it up.
Marcus Morris and Joel Embiid got into it pic.twitter.com/tYFwuqtlcG— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 12, 2020
For the Lakers, missing out on Morris stings. Even as they sit atop the Western Conference with a 41-12 record, it's hard to argue that they possess a better rotation than the Clippers. They rely heavily on James and Davis for the bulk of their points on a nightly basis (51.6 per game). Depending on James to continue his torrid pace in his 17th season is a big gamble.
But Morris wasn't the only swing and miss for the Lakers.
They were linked to retired guard Darren Collison, who would have provided much-needed 3-point shooting off the bench as well as secondary playmaking. After weighing his options, Collison decided to remain retired.
Then it got worse. Reggie Jackson, rumored to be coveted by the Lakers, agreed to a buyout with the Pistons and chose the Clippers, officially becoming a member of the team Thursday.
On paper, there really isn't any argument — the Clippers clearly have the better roster. That was probably true even prior to the Morris trade and Jackson signing. These moves only solidified that fact.
While nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, the Lakers should be concerned. This boxing match is far from over, but the Clippers have won the first few rounds in decisive fashion.
UPDATE: Markieff Morris plans to sign with the Lakers after agreeing to a buyout with the Pistons, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. The Lakers will waive DeMarcus Cousins in order to create a roster spot for Markieff, who is Marcus' twin brother.