The LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers were widely considered to be the two best teams in the Western Conference entering the trade deadline, so it's not a surprise that much has been made of one of them making a move while the other stood pat.
That alone doesn't necessarily give one team an advantage over the other - there's something to be said for continuity and what teams have to sacrifice in order to make deals at the trade deadline - but it's the deal the Clippers ended up making that could swing the battle of Los Angeles in their favour this season.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers were involved in a three-team trade at the deadline that landed them Marcus Morris. To acquire the 30-year-old, the Clippers gave up Jerome Robinson, Moe Harkless and a 2020 first-round pick, a steep price for someone who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season but one the Clippers won't think twice about if this season ends in a championship.
The Clippers, Knicks and Wizards have agreed to a three-team trade that will land Marcus Morris and Isaiah Thomas with the Clippers, league sources tell ESPN. Jerome Robinson will join the Wizards, Moe Harkless and a 2020 first-round pick to the Knicks.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 6, 2020
Morris is in the middle of a career year with an average of 19.6 points per game, doing so on 44.2 percent shooting from the field. He's not going to sustain that level of production with the Clippers, but he gives them another player who can get a bucket and space the floor at a high level.
His 3-point shooting in particular will be a welcomed addition to the team. Morris has made 43.9 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, by far and away the highest mark of his career and one of the highest rates in the league. Even though some regression should be expected, it's a good sign for the Clippers that the bulk of his 3-point attempts have been catch-and-shoot, which he should continue to get plenty of due to the amount of attention Leonard and George draw when they have the ball in their hands.
Morris will need to sacrifice quite a lot to fit in with the Clippers - he's going from having the greenest of green lights in New York to being a third or fourth option in Los Angeles, which will be an adjustment for someone who has the reputation of being a ball stopper - but he has the potential to give the Clippers even more juice on offence.
At the very least, Morris is an insurance policy in case one of Leonard or George gets injured. When the Clippers are at full strength, Morris will be expected to play more of a complementary role on offence. When they're not, he's a prime candidate to get more touches. He's shown he can score in a variety of ways, whether it's as a ball handler in the pick-and-roll, in isolation or in the post. There's value in having another player who can do those things even if it isn't the cleanest of fits.
It's the other end of the floor where Morris could be at his most valuable, though. While the Clippers already have no shortage of strong perimeter defenders in Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley, Morris adds to their depth as another tough-minded defender who has the versatility to guard both forward positions and even some small ball centres.
Specifically, his history of guarding LeBron James will come in handy should the Clippers and Lakers meet in the playoffs. Not that Morris is a LeBron-stopper - the days of anyone being able to consistently slow down James are long gone - but he's always considered himself to be one of the league's best defenders against the 16-time All-Star.
"Personally, I think I'm probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kawhi," Morris said ahead of an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with James when he was with the Boston Celtics.
"There's not going to be one guy that's going to be able to defend him," he continued. "He's the best player in this game. My thing is just cut down the easy baskets. Cut down the easy baskets, and cut down the other guys that are going to score. We can't have [James' supporting cast] having 30-point games and 20-point games, and I think that gives us the best chance to win, because he's going to do what he's going to do, but as long as we make it tough for him and don't give up the easy ones."
Whether or not he is actually the best player outside of Leonard at defending James isn't really the point. (The matchup data from that series does point to Morris having some individual success against James, but that data is far from perfect). What is important is the Clippers now have three players who can match up with James physically.
The reason that matters? The Lakers are far more than a one-man team this season, but James is still the engine that makes them go. According to NBA.com, the Lakers are averaging 114.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 103.6 with him on the bench.
The Lakers have even struggled when Anthony Davis has been out there without James, with their offensive rating falling by 12.6 in those minutes.
In acquiring Morris, the Clippers gave themselves an even better shot at winning those minutes James is on the court. Again, not that he's going to contain James all by himself, but the Clippers can now roll out lineups built around three of the better LeBron defenders in the league, giving head coach Doc Rivers the flexibility of throwing different looks at him throughout a series. Either one of them can start the game on James and they're each capable of switching onto him.
The icing on the cake for the Clippers is that trading for Morris also prevented the Lakers from getting him. What the Knicks were reportedly asking from the Lakers in return was quite a lot - Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and future second-round picks, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN - so it made sense for them to hold onto what they have. However, Morris was one of the few players available at the trade deadline who isn't at a complete loss guarding the likes of James, Leonard and George on an island, two of the others being Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, both of whom are now in the Eastern Conference.
Simply keeping him away from the Lakers is a victory in itself for the Clippers.
Whether or not Morris ends up being the piece that actually puts the Clippers over the top this season remains to be seen, but it's clear why they were so focused on trading for him.
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