OKLAHOMA CITY — Surrounded by reporters, a larger than usual throng there to see him for the first time or simply starved for post All-Star break access, Markieff Morris smiled.
“It was kind of like college recruitment,” he said. “When I talked to these guys, they believed in me a lot. I heard from multiple players, Sam, multiple coaches.”
“Sam,” of course, is Sam Presti, Thunder general manager, and Morris is the newest member of the Thunder, signed off the buyout market not long after being waived by the New Orleans Pelicans, who acquired him in the trade that sent Wesley Johnson to Philadelphia.
Cleared to play for two weeks, yet out of action the past two months thanks to a neck injury, Morris averaged 11.8 points and 5.6 rebounds over 34 games with the Wizards this season, 15 of which he started.
Thursday, his second with his new team, he sounded like a man who’d been set free, a sentiment that came through when asked about the type of defense he’d play.
“I’m willing to do whatever,” he said. “If we need to switch, if we need to play up high, we have the same calls that I did in Washington, so I’m very familiar with the defense. But whatever makes the team better.”
Morris, a 6-foot-10 forward, played three seasons at Kansas with twin brother Marcus — now a Boston Celtic — and did not become a full-time starter until his junior season, when he averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.
After being the 13th pick in the 2011 draft following that junior season, he was traded in the middle of his fifth NBA season from Phoenix to Washington. He’s played in 555 NBA games, starting 330.
“He’s a guy that prides himself on really being able to do a lot of different things,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “Defending, rebounding, passing, posting up, shooting. I think he wants to do whatever he can do to try to improve our team.”
Donovan stopped short of saying Morris would definitely see court time against Utah tonight — “We’ll have to see,” he said, “I don’t want to answer that right now” — but made it clear Morris was fully active in two Wednesday practices and again on Thursday.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a transition. I think it’s going to be normal,” Morris said of eventually playing for his new team.
Paul George, who called his new teammate “a playoff player,” said it was the “tightness” of the Thunder that attracted Morris and Morris concurred.
“You can just see the passion that they play with, the smiles, how happy they are for each other,” he said. “As a player, that’s one of the things you look for when you’re trying to pick a team, the family atmosphere and how guys feel about each other.”
Though it would require his signing a new contract, when speaking about playing against his twin brother, Morris floated the possibility of being in Oklahoma City next season.
“I told him, we don’t play [Boston] any more this year, but … possibly I’ll be here next year, he won’t come in here and kill us with game winners and deep 3s.”
An an opponent visiting Oklahoma City, the Thunder always made an impression on Morris.
“The atmosphere is unbelievable,” he said. “Every time I’d play here, I’d always say this is one of the toughest places to play.”
Now he’s on the home team.
Memphis at Oklahoma City
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Records: Jazz 32-25, Thunder 37-20
TV: ESPN, FSOK