As players on the Washington Wizards‘ training camp roster assembled for the first time Monday at Capital One Arena, starting power forward Markieff Morris was across the country, spending the afternoon in a Phoenix courtroom. While Morris, who faces aggravated assault charges, was not scheduled to attend the team’s media day because of his ongoing trial, his absence served as a reminder that the team better get used to being without him. Due to recent surgery, Morris won’t be back anytime soon.
He will miss the next six to eight weeks while recovering from sports hernia surgery, sidelining him for at least the start of the 2017-18 season and leaving a void in the Wizards’ starting lineup. In between posing for media day photos, several Wizards lamented Morris’s absence.
“We’re definitely going to miss Keef,” Bradley Beal said. “Keef is a vital, vital part of our team. It was great having him for a full year last year but we’re definitely going to miss him. We feel like we have enough depth at each position to be able to fill his role, to be able to fill his shoes a little bit.”
Starting center Marcin Gortat has played alongside Morris since their days with the Phoenix Suns, and he’ll especially miss the presence of his frontcourt sidekick.
“Obviously it was devastating news, especially for me,” Gortat said. “That’s my guy. I’ve been playing with him for so many years that I definitely need him to be next to me in the game. I feel comfortable playing with him but this is how it is in the NBA. Now is an opportunity for someone else to step up.”
Of all the starters, Morris plays the position that may be the trickiest to replace. Although the Wizards signed 6-foot-8 Mike Scott to play the stretch-four forward role and can also trot out 7-footer Jason Smith to soak up minutes, the team lacks a true backup who, like Morris, is molded as the power forward prototype. With this in mind, it appears that Washington will treat the position like a rotating door.
“Mike Scott or Jason Smith, or you know, who knows maybe Kelly [Oubre Jr.] at the four or Otto [Porter Jr.] at the four, you never know? It’s an opportunity for somebody else,” said Gortat, who then transitioned to how Morris’s injury will impact his personal output. “I have to be better. I have to [make up] for Keef. Hopefully going to get more rebounds and protect the paint even better than I did last year but it’s going to be tough. We’re definitely going to miss him.”
Though there is no one player to substitute for Morris, the Wizards view this as an advantage.
“We have versatility, we have depth,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We can go in many different directions. We can go small.”
Brooks has already explored the option of giving some power forward minutes to Porter, who is usually a swingman. Last season, the Wizards used Porter as the stretch four in 35 games. With the athletic Porter and Oubre on the wings, Beal and John Wall in the backcourt, and Gortat anchoring the center position, the group logged more minutes than any other five-man lineup outside of the normal starting five. Overall, that lineup outscored opponents by 2.2 points per game.
“We’ve done it last year, we were pretty successful with Otto playing the four. That is something we will consider but you don’t want to overextend guys’ minutes. We’re going to be cognizant of all our guys’ minutes and we want them to feel fresh throughout the season,” Brooks said. “Otto definitely has the ability to play four. The league is so, so much — it’s a smaller league in a lot of different spots. In the ’80s or ’90s, Otto at the four probably would not have been a decision but now, with all the shooting fours out there, I think he can step in and play that role, whether we need him to start at the position or be that position throughout the game. We have some options. Like I said, we have a few guys that can step in for Keef until he gets back.”
Still, Morris’s impact can’t be easily replaced — for reasons his teammates know best.
“He was a big part of our team,” Gortat said. “Having this extra guy who can post up the ball and shoot the ball from outside and have a great basketball I.Q. and a tough guy. We all love when he’s getting those technical fouls and he’s pushing people, hitting people, talking to the refs. Sometimes you need that and we’re going to miss that. We’re definitely going to miss that.”