While it was overshadowed by bigger-name transactions, one of the most fascinating sequences of the first week of 2019’s free agent period came after the Spurs agreed to sign Marcus Morris to a two-year deal worth their mid-level exception.
San Antonio, having already reached a deal to sign DeMarre Carroll using a portion of the mid-level, renegotiated Carroll’s contract and agreed to send Davis Bertans to the Wizards in a three-team trade that would ultimately open up the MLE for Morris. However, Morris then reneged on his agreement with the Spurs, opting to sign with the Knicks instead. San Antonio subsequently used part of its MLE to sign Trey Lyles, but likely would have preferred to simply keep Bertans.
Addressing that situation for the first time today, Spurs head coach and head of basketball operations Gregg Popovich expressed frustration with how things played out, as Jabari Young of The Athletic (video link) relays.
“It was more than difficult to lose Davis,” Popovich said. “Let’s just say that that was an unfortunate situation that was handled unprofessionally on a couple of different levels. We made that move (trading Bertans) to make the signing that we did, and we got blindsided. Davis was a special player, as we all know. He was young and getting better and better, so we hated losing him.”
Morris’ change of heart in free agency played a part in his split with agent Rich Paul, who reportedly urged him to stick to his deal with the Spurs. The situation also allegedly fueled some animosity between the Knicks and Spurs.
Morris told Shams Charania of The Athletic in late July that as soon as he changed his mind and decided to sign with the Knicks, he called the Spurs to make sure they knew. According to Morris, he had “great conversations afterward” with the Spurs and felt good about moving forward.
Based on his Media Day comments, it doesn’t sound as if Popovich shared the same feelings about how the saga played out. Asked today if Morris reached out to the team and explained what happened, Popovich replied, “Not really.”