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Competition could spoil Markieff Morris’ plans in Washington

Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors - Game Five Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

If you’re entering the final season of your NBA contract and looking to cash out, there’s probably no better place to be than Washington, D.C.

The Wizards have made a habit of rewarding their players with massive contract extensions, even if it’s meant crossing the luxury tax line and saying goodbye to any roster flexibility the team once had. It’s been the team’s m.o. since Ernie Grunfeld took over in 2003—and there’s no reason to think it’s going to change anytime soon.

John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter are all locked up for the foreseeable future, but other players on the roster want similar security (and money)—namely, Markieff Morris.

Morris, now sharing an agency with John Wall, wants to stick around in the nation’s capital for the rest of his career. The players, the coaches, and management have embraced Morris – the good and bad. As it’s been the case since the Wizards got him from the Suns, Morris is going to be Washington’s x-factor this upcoming season. With a revised roster in place, the Wizards will count on Morris for his energy arguably more than anyone else’s—when he’s playing with a bully mentality, the rest of the players increase their physicality and play engaged basketball, which has been an issue for years.

But to get the long-term deal he wants, Morris will have to play the most productive basketball of his career—and his teammates will present challenges.

Green, Morris cross paths at a strange time

NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Green, a former fifth overall pick, has played on five teams in the last four seasons. He’s watched former teammates— Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden—win MVPs and collect roughly $500 million collectively on their most-recent deals, while he’s bounced around the league and signed for the veteran’s minimum.

Early in his career, Green was thought to have All-Star potential—and at 32, he’s almost in the exact spot now as he was following the 2007 draft: still trying to figure out who he is as a player. Green, like some of the players that benefited from Wall’s passing in the past, could find the rhythm he’s been yearning for his whole career, courtesy of the #WallEffect.

That outcome would be a positive for everyone involved—except Morris, whose playing time would inevitably shrink if Green produces in D.C.

Last season, Green had a resurgence with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ironically, Green was one of the only players on the team’s roster who managed to find consistency during a time where it was seemingly impossible to find any. LeBron James’ departure was looming, management had blown up the roster multiple times and “easy wins” were no longer a cakewalk.

Green became a reliable presence off the bench, averaging 10.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting—the highest clip he’s had since he was first traded back to Boston in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins. Now he comes to Washington, reunited with Scott Brooks, expecting to play a similar role for a team in dire need of scoring for its second unit.

Given his skill-set, Green would be utilized best if he’s on the court with the team’s starting backcourt, and since he’s a modern four, it’s hard to find a scenario where he’s on that same court with Morris.

Their paths are intersecting at a strange time – Green wants to revitalize his career and finally break out, and Morris is seeking what could be the last major contract of his career. For one to reach the goal, the other must presumably take a hit.

Gortat’s departure rids Morris of opportunity

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Marcin Gortat’s steep decline last year created an opportunity for Markieff Morris to play more minutes at the center position. Last season, Morris played center 19 percent of the time after only playing there 8 percent the season before, and only 1 percent of the time in 2015-16, according to Basketball-Reference.

What changed? It’s simple, really: Gortat wasn’t able to protect the rim and the guards largely ignored him on offense, so keeping him on the floor didn’t make sense.

And neither did keeping him on the team.

Gortat is gone and Dwight Howard – a more athletic, impactful big (at least on paper) – has replaced him.

With that addition, Brooks will have less reason to play Morris at the five. Howard is a better rebounder, shot blocker and he’s more physically imposing. There are going to be times when Brooks will opt to play small and slot Morris at center, but those chances won’t come around as often as they did last year, when the team had no other choice.

Oubre is hungry for a deal too

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to giveaways, the Wizards are more generous than Oprah. Don’t be completely awful, and chances are, you’ll get a deal.

Kelly Oubre is due for an extension and the Wizards have to figure out whether they want him in their future plans. His talent is undeniable – he’s explosive, relentless and has shown game-changing flashes – but he’s also incredibly frustrating. He gambles often, has yet to really develop an outside shot and his handles are shaky.

More importantly, he’s not completely awful—and that’s more than Washington can say for some of their other reserves.

To get the juice out of Oubre, the Wizards will also have to find a way to play him with the core—including Porter. Last season, Oubre and Porter played together in three of the Wizards’ five most effective lineups.

Oubre has been working with Drew Hanlen on his ball-handling this off-season, as he done the previous two, but it’s still too early to rely on him as a creator. He will earn his money with spot-up shooting, off-ball movement, and his presence defensively.

As roaming threats on the court together, Oubre and Porter will make defenses pay if it overcompensates with focus on the backcourt. By playing Wall, Beal, Oubre, Porter, and Howard together, the Wizards will have the shooting, size and length that’s necessary to compete against every team in the league.

In that case, Morris, again, finds himself left out—a theme that might follow him the entire season.