The Adam Morrison dream was simply too good to be true. His short-lived tenure in Portland will come to an end tomorrow, as the Oregonian’s Mike Tokito reports that Morrison, along with Coby Karl and Justin Holliday, will be waived to bring Portland’s roster to 15. The news isn’t terribly surprising—following a solid preseason debut in which he scored 9 points in 12 minutes on 4-6 shooting, Morrison has either failed to get into the Blazers’ preseason games or been ineffective when he did play. Still, his release brings to an end what could have been an enjoyable subplot for a team wanting for reasons to keep fans engaged.
Morrison and the Blazers have a history together, dating back to the 2006 NBA draft. The Fan 1080 AM launched a highly-publicized “Draft the Stache” public awareness campaign urging Kevin Pritchard to take Morrison, a deadly shooter with ties to the Pacific Northwest, with the fourth pick in the draft. The Blazers, of course, swung trades instead for LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, dramatically altering the direction of the franchise. Morrison, meanwhile, was taken by Charlotte and had a decent-enough rookie season before sitting out the entire 2007-08 campaign with a torn ACL. He washed out of the league two years later, following a trade to the Lakers and a spot on the end of the bench for two straight NBA titles. The “Draft the Stache” days were relegated to nothing more than a footnote in Blazers lore, and even seen as something of a dodged bullet, in light of the successes Roy and Aldridge experienced.
When the union between the Blazers and Morrison finally came to fruition this fall, both were in a dramatically different place than in 2006. The Blazers are still navigating the immediate aftermath of the death of the Roy/Aldridge/Oden era, having completed a painful decline from one of the most promising up-and-coming teams in the league to one of the frontrunners to land a top pick in next year’s draft lottery. Morrison, similarly, is no longer part of the future of the NBA’s crop of talent. Instead, he has firmly established his status as one of the biggest draft busts of the past decade, right up there with Darko Milicic, Stromile Swift, and—unavoidably—Greg Oden. The stakes were considerably lower for both parties in 2012. Morrison just wanted another shot at the NBA, and the Blazers had nothing to lose by giving him one.
I’m not sure where it went wrong. By all accounts, Morrison worked hard in camp and impressed Terry Stotts with his determination to make the team. This is true of everybody in an NBA camp fighting for a roster spot, but the idea that the Blazers have more to gain by giving the final spot to Sasha Pavlovic rather than Morrison doesn’t check out. Nobody likes Pavlovic. Games become far less watchable the moment he steps on the floor, no matter who his teammates are. There is nothing he brings on the court that can’t be duplicated by a player whose very existence isn’t infuriating. And if last night’s preseason finale is any indication, Stotts is planning on giving him minutes this season that could be better used to develop rookies Victor Claver and Will Barton. Pavlovic’s presence on the team is actively detrimental to the progression of the youth movement the Blazers are trying to build as they inch back towards contention. That wouldn’t be a problem with Morrison, who probably wouldn’t get many non-garbage minutes if he made the team. But he would at least be a figure for fans to follow and root for this season, when wins will be hard to come by. There is nothing compelling about Sasha Pavlovic.
Morrison said during training camp that if he doesn’t stick in Portland, he will probably hang up his sneakers. So this is likely the end of the line for one of the biggest what-if stories in recent NBA history. We shouldn’t hold this against him. He isn’t the first sure-thing college player to fail at the pro level, and he won’t be the last. In an excellent Grantland profile following his standout performance on the Clippers’ Summer League squad, Morrison told Jordan Conn, “I’m not a bad dude. I haven’t stabbed anybody. I’m not on probation. I was drafted high, and I wasn’t good enough to warrant that. I get it — I really do — but sometimes, it’s just like, man, come on.” At a certain point, players’ chances run out. But this seemed like a perfect opportunity for Morrison to win the respect of a fanbase that he never got in Charlotte or Los Angeles, and it’s unfortunate that it had to end.