The short but inconvenient saga of Marcus Morris has come to an end. Either the Spurs have withdrawn the offer that they had proposed to Morris, or he has accepted a new one from the Knicks, according to your convictions. The result is the same.
As Morris traveled to New York, the Spurs acted quickly by signing a two-year contract with former Nugget Trey Lyles, whose first year was fully guaranteed. As far as possible for a clearly bad situation, ending up with a 23-year-old vanguard with untapped potential is not bad.
If nothing else, Lyles gives the Spurs another new film in which to invest. But if hope is always welcome, anyone assuming that they will contribute quality from the start should temper their expectations.
Lyles just was not good in his young NBA career. In just four years in the league, he fell out of favor with both the Jazz (12th overall) and the Nuggets, who were strong enough to trade the first player to become Donovan Mitchell. It is hard to blame either team, as both teams improved significantly with the release of Lyles, who at least partially fueled their ascent to the top of the Western hierarchy.
The improvement of both Jazz and Nuggets without him on the defensive was remarkable. Clearly, only Lyles did not account for the recovery, and the defensive ranking can be a noisy statistic, but the fact that two respected first-line coaches, Quin Snyder and Michael Malone, thought he was not good enough to be part of their team tells. Whether he was a dubious defender or the situation but an excellent offensive player, Lyles would have an obvious value, but that was not the case. He was extremely inconsistent and failed to develop the perimeter skills that had made him enter the lottery. There is also at least some evidence suggesting that he might not be the most engaged and mature player in the league, which could explain why his career has been tough so far.
There are many reasons why Lyles was still around at the end of the day, but only one is enough to explain why the Spurs decided to take a flyer. Despite his difficulties, the attacker 6'10 remains an intriguing prospect. He just needs part of his game to click to bring out the rest of his skills: a reliable three-point shot.
Becoming a credible outside threat would do wonders to Lyles' chances of not just breaking the rotation by necessity, but becoming part of San Antonio's future. He used 25% points over three points last year, but he made 39% of his attempts in depth during the 2017/18 season, which shows that he's not a lost cause in this area. His mediocre percentage on free throws gives less than tactile signs, but he would only need to be a credible threat as a shooter on goal to be a valuable option for attacking close-ups. Lyles has not lived up to its reputation, but its percentage of help has improved over the years. He is able to do simple readings and is a good finisher at the edge once past his man. The tools for Lyles to be a quality rotating part are there if the shooting improves.
Even if a big jump does not happen, Lyles could be useful as a temporary solution for one year provided he tries to defend himself, he is not afraid to pull the trigger when he is open and proves to be fit to exploit the inadequacies. That's what the Spurs were trying to get from Morris and they'll certainly welcome their latest addition in the 15-20 minutes he'll probably spend on the field. Lyles is clearly behind the initial target of free agencies and even Davis Bertans recently traded, but as long as he's better than Dante Cunningham last season, the Spurs should be fine. As soon as it became apparent that Morris was probably inclined to go to the Knicks, the chances of San Antonio to improve significantly at the advanced positions have disappeared. Lyles could eventually flourish, but even if it's only a viable depth option behind Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll, the signature will be useful.
Without their fault, the Spurs lost Morris and had to rotate at a time when all the notable people had disappeared. In these circumstances, their decision to bet on a future 24-year-old forward with some bad habits but a commendable potential. Lyles has not always been good, but the players who have been just are not available late in free agency for cheap.
Lyles and Spurs are not a perfect fit or the first options of each other, but that does not mean that their partnership can not work. The Morris saga, as frustrating as it may be, could have a satisfying end for everyone involved.