Morrison seeks return to relevance

Adam Morrison, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft. is at Wizards camp with a non-guaranteed contract.
Adam Morrison, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft. is at Wizards camp with a non-guaranteed contract. (John Mcdonnell)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Adam Morrison remembers being matched up against Kobe Bryant in one of his first practices with the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Phil Jackson was trying to get a sense of what the new arrival was made of, less than three years after Michael Jordan had made him the third overall pick of the 2006 NBA draft for the Charlotte Bobcats.

The results were as lopsided as one would expect. "He was killing me," Morrison said.

But Bryant didn't just welcome Morrison to the Lakers with a barrage of post-up moves, pull-up jumpers and fadeaways. Bryant saved his best work for the locker room after practice, when he posed a question to Morrison.

"He said, 'Can you guard me without S.O.S. on the back of your jersey?' " Morrison said, adding that Bryant never let up with the trash talk during his time in Los Angeles. "Some of the stuff I can't repeat."

Morrison said being around the Lakers, and Bryant specifically, the past few seasons helped him become a better player and gain an understanding of what it takes to improve individually and accomplish the ultimate team goal. Morrison left Los Angeles with two championships, but the 26-year-old also acknowledges that most of his time in Los Angeles was spent as a spectator in a sport coat.

"I didn't get on the court - at all," said Morrison, who appeared in just 83 games the past two seasons in Charlotte and Los Angeles. "I always tell people I was a fan with an all-access pass, pretty much, and I got a check every week. I felt part of the team but, being the draft pick that I was, I got a lot of flak for not playing. People don't understand - it was a very good team. Wasn't like I was playing somewhere that wasn't good."

Morrison found himself buried, lost, and forgotten. But now he has an opportunity to resurrect his career - or get it started, depending on your perspective - with the Washington Wizards. "I really like the situation here," Morrison said after a recent practice at George Mason's Patriot Center.

Having arrived in the league as college player of year from Gonzaga and drawing uninvited comparisons to Larry Bird, Morrison is now just another NBA vagabond, sporting a scruffy beard and unruly long hair, playing on a non-guaranteed contract hoping to stick around. It was a precipitous fall, which began after Morrison suffered a major knee injury before his second season with Charlotte and continued as he joined a championship team with considerable talent in front of him.

When asked to assess his career, Morrison said he would give himself "a C-minus."

"It was a high pick, so there is going to be more pressure. That's the way this sports, entertainment thing works, so this is part of the deal," Morrison said. "I was hoping to have a job in Charlotte, be one of the starters. But it didn't happen in that situation. Going to L.A., we all know that story.

"I've won two championships. I've been lucky enough to do that," he said. "Other than that, I spent a year off not playing, and then I guess since I haven't played, it's been bad. That's how everybody else views it."

Bernie Bickerstaff was Morrison's first coach as a rookie in Charlotte and said that Morrison was an extremely competitive person, which sometimes worked to his detriment because he was unwilling to be patient early in his career. Bickerstaff said that the experience of being in Los Angeles was both enlightening and humbling for Morrison. "I'm a pro Adam. When I look at that guy, I still think he's a big-shot maker," Bickerstaff said in a recent telephone conversation. "I just think the guy still has got something most teams need - he can put the ball in the basket."

Wizards Coach Flip Saunders, who was able to get Shaun Livingston's career back on track last season, worked out with Morrison in July in Las Vegas and stayed in touch with him throughout the offseason. He contacted Morrison about three or four times, believing that a shooter like Morrison could benefit being around the playmaking trio of John Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich.

And, with Josh Howard still recovering from a knee injury, there is still an opening for minutes at the small forward position. "I like Adam's ability to knock down shots. I like his size," Saunders said of the 6-foot-8 Morrison. "He's going to have a good opportunity. If he can make open shots, it might be beneficial to what we're looking for."

Morrison said he is no longer concerned with trying to meet the expectations of being the third overall pick. "I'm just trying to make a team," Morrison said, "but we still got a month left in training camp. We've got a ways to go. I don't really have to live up to anybody except my parents and my family that I have. That's the only people I have to live up to."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company