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Determining a fair value for Markieff Morris’ next contract

Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Next summer, the Wizards face a contract decision on forward Markieff Morris. Acquired for a first round pick and roster detritus at the 2016 trade deadline, Morris has been mediocre, which is exactly what the team could have expected.

“Mediocre” isn’t an indictment of Morris. He’s played hard for the most part, but not everyone can be great. He’s a decent pro, and while there’s nothing he does great, he at least gives the team an aura of toughness (deserved or not), and he was part of one of the league’s better five-man lineups over the past couple seasons. He wasn’t a primary cause of that lineup being excellent, but he wasn’t an anchor dragging it down either.

According to my salary formula, which translates a player’s on-court production into cap dollars, Morris was worth about $10 million. This number is virtually irrelevant in a negotiation, however, because Morris has little leverage. He’s been about average throughout his career—including his time in Washington. He turns 30 next summer, and a gazillion players are joining him in free agency. There’s no chance a team with significant cap room will make an aggressive bid to land him, and if someone inexplicably does, the Wizards will have plenty of options to replace him.

As is the case with any aging role player, the ideal contracts will be some combination of short and inexpensive, preferably both. The Wizards could have some luxury tax flexibility, and they could decide that it’s worth bringing back Morris for the sake of continuity.

However, it’s important to recognize that Morris is 29, and that players like him usually decline from this point in their careers. The production curve isn’t like falling off a cliff, but the decline is from “nearly average” to “solidly below average” at a time when the Wizards need top production from all positions to maximize their chances of a deep run in the playoffs.

The dollar amount of a 2019 contract for Morris is almost beside the point. The key will be to keep it short—something like a two-year deal at the mid-level exception ($8.6 million) with the second year being a team option makes a lot of sense for the Wizards. It would give the team the continuity they crave, and would likely buy them the last two decent years Morris has left. The aging curve is unkind from age 31 on—replacement-level performance, not just solidly below-average.

If Morris has somehow been able to maintain some reasonable level of productivity after those two seasons, the Wizards could re-up with another short MLE-level (or less) contract. Morris is unlikely to have other teams in strong pursuit, so the Wizards don’t have to award him with a three- or four-year deal, no matter how hard his new agent pushes.

Probably the most important thing for the Wizards’ front office to keep in mind: while Morris is a decent player and a solid pro, what he does is highly replaceable. A rich contract for him would be foolish.