Adam Morrison: the Next Chapter
Travis J. Rodgers
The story of Adam Morrison's career in basketball reads like a fairy tale until the conclusion of his Junior year. Then things look a bit more like a Homeric epic, with trials, tribulations, and virtues displayed despite apparent losses. Following Morrison's rookie season in the NBA, things resemble a bad dream, a tale of lost opportunity, and a dark yet uncertain future. With his recent trade from Charlotte to the Lakers, owners of the best record in the NBA, Morrison stands, pen in hand, poised to write the next chapter in his story.
Morrison, a tall and wiry Forward, experienced superlative success at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs lost just 11 of the 95 games Morrison played in during his three years with the team. Individually, Morrison grew exponentially, from a solid Freshman to an NCAA leading scorer at 28 points per game, saw his team experience a third consecutive trip to the second round of the NCAA tourney, and a perfect conference record, all in his Junior season. Despite a solid effort from Morrison, a Gonzaga comeback bid against UCLA in the Sweet 16 fell short. Morrison's college career was over as was Gonzaga's season.
As a third overall pick, expectations on Morrison were high. Comparisons to Larry Bird were not terribly cautiously thrown around. Charlotte was a very young team with the 2005 Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor. No doubt hopes were for Morrison to pick up the award in his rookie season as Charlotte built toward respectability. But neither of those things were to happen. Despite competent numbers on the season, Morrison did not live up to immediate expectations. He was labeled a defensive liability, a questionable athlete, and shot just 34% from distance and 38% overall. Charlotte finished the season with 33 wins, a franchise record, but not enough to pull the Bobcats above fourth best in their division.
The 2007/08 began with higher expectations, of course. The Bobcats were 2-3 in preseason play when they met the Lakers on October 20th. Morrison, guarding Luke Walton, felt a pop in his knee as he crumbled to the ground. A torn ligament ended his season before it had truly begun. Morrison finished the preseason averaging 11.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, in 22 minutes per game. His 4 for 11 mark (36%) from long distance was a very slight improvement over his previous season's number. None of that really mattered, however, as Morrison missed the entire season and the Bobcats failed to improve on their record from the previous season.
2008/09 marked the arrival of Larry Brown, a defensive-minded coach renowned for demanding an all out effort from his players, especially on the defensive side of the court. Seemingly unable to meet the challenge, perhaps due to physical limitations from his surgically repaired knee, perhaps due to a lack of natural quickness, perhaps due to mental instabilities about working with that knee, Morrison was relegated to the bench. He responded well to the role initially. Despite never reaching 30 minutes in any of his first 21 games, Morrison hit double figures in points six times. In five of those contests, he had done so while playing fewer than 25 minutes. He received one start, shot 1-7, and was summarily benched. Two more double digit games in early January were the extent of his playing time until he was forced into the lineup with Gerald Wallace ailing. Saying he was forced into the role is kinder than suggesting that he was showcased as a trade piece for there was nothing showy about it. Morrison was unimpressive, shooting 7 for 20 (35%), including 1 for 7 (14%) from the arc. He handed out two assists, grabbed four rebounds, and scored 17 points in those four games combined.
Now Adam Morrison, along with teammate Shannon Brown, joins the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap for Vladimir Radmanovic. The shift from a team four games out of the 8th and final playoff seed in the East to a team with a 6.5 game lead for the first seed in the West is a huge change of scenery. With solid players at every position for the Lakers on both the first team and second team, there is zero pressure on Morrison. Now the ball falls to him to do something with this opportunity. A respectable playmaker compared to Radmanovic, Morrison may be able to find himself a role on the team as another shooter who is not a liability doing things with the ball other than shooting. Of course, if he is to do even that, he will have to improve his shooting percentage. And that is not even to mention the fact that he will have to work defensively in LA as well. While Phil Jackson is no Larry Brown in terms of defense, Jackson openly complains about Luke Walton's defensive inabilities, for instance.
In speculating about where this present chapter will head, several things must be considered. There is little doubt that Morrison is not the same player he was when he entered the league. His confidence is low, he is not at peak physical condition, and he has no chance of competing for a starting spot at this point because he does not know the triangle offense. On the other hand, one receives a special boon when joining a team with Kobe Bryant. Shooters find that there are suddenly more open looks than one would otherwise receive. A quick glance at recent Lakers' numbers supports this. Charlotte struggled shooting the ball. As a team, they ranked 23rd in the league in FG% and 18th in three-point percentage. The Lakers, meanwhile, shoot the 8th best percent in the league from beyond the arc and are 3rd in field goal percentage. Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Vlad Radmanovic, and Trevor Ariza have all shot their best from three when teaming up with Bryant. Fisher hit 112 threes last season (and has been at 40%+ in each of the past two seasons), Farmar hit 114 treys last season (and has been steady at 37%), Sasha hit 118 (at 44% last season), Radmanovic hit 95 (and has been at 41% and 44% in each of the last two seasons, respectively). And of course Bryant hit 150 threes last season as well. There are open perimeter looks galore for the Lakers.
So what will the next chapter look like? Morrison may be able to work very hard and address his attitude, get healthier with respect to the knee, gain confidence from knocking down open looks, and become a solid contributor and perhaps one day all he was thought to be. Of course, Morrison cannot be a savior and doesn’t have to be. He is utterly expendable to the Lakers, a mere mark in a ledger, a savings of approximately $5 million over the next two seasons. The only problem with that story line is that there is something Morrison has to save in LA if ever it is to be done: his career.