The brief but inconvenient saga of Marcus Morris has reached its conclusion. Either the Spurs took out the offer they had extended to Morris or he accepted a new Knicks, depending on who you believe. It comes down to the same result.
With Morris going to New York, the Spurs acted quickly and signed the former Nugget Trey Lyles with a two-year contract, with only the first year fully guaranteed. To the extent of the possible outcomes for a clearly bad situation, ending up with a 23-year-old forward with untapped potential is not bad.
If nothing else, Lyles gives the Spurs another young piece to invest in. But while hope is always welcome, anyone who assumes that he or she will be a quality contributor from the start should mitigate their expectations.
Lyles simply has not been good in his young career in the NBA. In just four years in the league, he has fallen out of favor with both the Jazz, which originally selected 12th, and the Nuggets, who were tall enough to trade the first round that would become Donovan Mitchell to get it. It is difficult to blame any of the teams, as both improved significantly with Lyles outside the rotation, which at least partially pushed his ascension to the top level in the West.
The improvement that both the Jazz and the Nuggets had without him on the defensive side was remarkable. Clearly, Lyles just did not take the pickup into account, and the defensive rating can be a noisy stat, but the fact that two respected first defense coaches like Quin Snyder and Michael Malone thought he was not good enough to be part of his team. It is revealing. If he were a questionable or situational defender but an excellent offensive player, Lyles would have an obvious value, but that has not been the case. He has been extremely inconsistent and has not developed the perimeter skills that made him recruit in the lottery. There is also at least some evidence suggesting that he might not be the most committed and mature player in the league, which could explain why his career has been difficult so far.
There are many reasons that explain why Lyles was still close to this afternoon in free agency, but only one is necessary to justify why the Spurs decided to take him a flyer. Despite his struggles, the front 6 is still an intriguing prospect. You only need one part of your game to click to make the rest of your skill set shine: a reliable three point shot.
Becoming a credible external threat would do wonders for Lyles' chances of not only breaking the rotation out of necessity, but becoming part of the future of San Antonio. He threw a frightening 25 percent on three-pointers last year, but he made 39 percent of his attempts from the depths of the 2017/18 season, proving that he is not a lost cause in that area. Their mediocre percentage in free throws indicates less than a stellar touch, but it would only have to be a credible threat as a shooting thrower to become a valuable option to attack the eliminations. Lyles has not lived up to his reputation as a college student, but his attendance percentage has improved over the years. He is able to do simple readings and is a decent one that ends up on the edge once he overtakes his man. The tools for Lyles to be a piece of quality rotation are there if the shot improves.
Even if a big leap does not occur, Lyles could be useful as a one-year interim resource, as long as he strives in defense, do not be afraid to pull the trigger when it's open, and prove to be an expert in exploiting maladjustments. That's what the Spurs tried to get from Morris and what they will surely receive with the welcome of their latest addition in the 15 to 20 minutes that will probably be on the court. Lyles has a clear rating downgrade to the original goal of San Antonio free agency and even the recently exchanged Davis Bertans, but while it's better than Dante Cunningham was last season, the Spurs should be fine. As soon as it became clear that Morris was probably inclined to go to the Knicks, San Antonio's chances of improving significantly in the front positions disappeared. Lyles could flourish, but even if it is a viable depth option behind Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll, the signing will be useful.
Without their fault, the Spurs lost Morris and had to pivot at a time when all the notables had disappeared. In those circumstances, his decision to bet in a future of 24 years with some bad habits, but potential is praiseworthy. Lyles has not always been good, but players who have been are simply not available late in free agency for little money.
Lyles and the Spurs do not fit perfectly or probably the first options of the others, but that does not mean that their association can not work. The Morris saga, as frustrating as it was, could have a satisfying ending for everyone involved.