It hasn’t been an easy ride for Adam Morrison. Yes, he was a No. 3 overall pick. And yes, he has more championship rings than LeBron James. But after a solid rookie year with the Bobcats in 2006-07, where he averaged 12 points a game and was selected for the All-Rookie Second Team, his basketball career has been on a steady downward spiral ever since. A terrible knee injury in training camp before his second NBA season derailed his chances in Charlotte, and a trade to the Lakers brought some hardware but miniscule playing time and zero personal satisfaction.
This is an important week for Morrison. A stellar performance playing for the Clippers at Summer League (20 points a game in Vegas) earned him a camp invite with the Portland Trail Blazers, but the spot is not guaranteed and the Blazers are already at the roster limit of 15 players. This isn’t a foreign situation for Morrison, however. After being cut before the regular season by the Washington Wizards in 2010, Morrison spoke openly about retiring. He spent a year completely away from the game he loved, then headed across the pond to ball in Serbia (and later Turkey) before standing on the fringe of the NBA once again.
Through six preseason games, Morrison is averaging a little under three points in about nine minutes a game and Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has recently said cuts will likely be coming on Saturday, the 27th.
I recently caught up with Morrison at the Trail Blazers practice facility to talk about being a fringe player at training camp, playing overseas and life without basketball. Oh, and his love of Rage Against the Machine.
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Dime: How was your summer?
Adam Morrison: The summer was alright. A little long. I did both training camps and both sets of Summer Leagues, so it was long.
Dime: Anything specific you’ve worked on this summer, as far as improving your game?
AM: Trying to be a more consistent shooter, I guess. A knockdown shooter.
Dime: You did very well at summer league, averaging 20 points a game for the Clippers squad. Do you know what you shot from three-point range?
Dime: 62 percent.
AM: Oh yeah? Nice!
Dime: What’s the process of getting a camp invite? You do Summer League. You play for the Clippers. You do well. How long after did the Blazers reach out to you?
AM: It was actually like a week before I came down here. I was trying to get a guarantee somewhere. But, you know…
Dime: Did any other teams give you invites as well?
AM: Yeah, my agent told me Miami and obviously the Clippers. But we thought this would be a better situation â€“ it’s close to home.
Dime: Was that a big factor in your decision? Being close to Spokane?
AM: Yeah, yeah. And a new coach, new system, everybody’s kind of on the same level, you know what I mean? But I understand they have 15 guys, so I’m just trying to play hard and if it doesn’t work out at least they can recommend me to somebody else. You know how it is.
Dime: So you get the invite from the Blazers and decide to come to Portland â€“ did they tell you ahead of time what they were looking for?
AM: Yeah, they just told me to play hard and be myself. They told me, “We know you can score and we want to see if you can battle on defensively. We know you’re not going to be Michael Cooper, but we just want to see good effort.” And that’s what I think I’ve done so far.
Dime: Do they keep you updated? Do you get to meet with them day to day? Do you they let you know how they think you’re doing?
AM: Nobody knows. It’s the hardest part about the NBA. Fringe guy.
Dime: So you go day to day, bust your ass…
AM: Day to day. Bust your ass. You know, it’s all that you can do.
Dime: Do you think training camp has gone well? You’ve obviously done this before, so what’s your gut telling you about how you’re playing…
AM: My gut feeling is that I’m behind.
Dime: How so?
AM: I don’t know. I haven’t made enough plays. I haven’t made enough shots.
Dime: Do you feel like you’ve been given enough chances?
AM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, practice is where it happens first. Obviously you want to play well in the games. But if you can show that you’re playing hard in practice, you’re doing the right things – that’s the first step. Then maybe you’ll get a chance later on in games. Some of the practices I haven’t played as well as I’d like.
Dime: How’s the competition been so far?
AM: It’s been great. That’s the thing â€“ with a new coach and a new system, everybody wants to make an impression, so you know, it’s pretty physical. I’ve been to some training camps that are pretty light.
Dime: In 2006, before the draft, Portland became infatuated with you. Did you know that was going on at the time?
AM: I didn’t.
Dime: Now that are you in Portland, how does it feel knowing that?
AM: It is kind of odd. Kind of 180 degrees, or whatever. I was a lottery pick, a top-five pick, but it obviously worked out better for the Blazers. They got Brandon Roy, a perennial All-Star. And you know, if he didn’t get injured â€“ I don’t know how he’s going to play this year â€“ but if he didn’t get injured his number would have been up top [motioning to the retired jerseys hanging from the rafters], you know what I mean? The way he was playing. So, it’s funny, it worked out better, obviously, for the Blazers than for me. But this is a great organization â€“ great fans. I remember playing here in my rookie year and it was just like, man, I wish I was playing here.
Dime: I saw an interview you did in Spokane a couple of years ago at your charity golf tournament. You mentioned that after the Wizards let you go, you thought, “If I don’t get a chance now, I’m probably going to hang ’em up.” What changed your mind from that moment – when you thought, “this is it” to “I’ve got stuff left in my tank, I’m going to give this another shot?”
AM: I think it was playing at Gonzaga and seeing that I could still play. That’s really what it was. I still have ability left.
Dime: How was that first time back?
AM: Oh the first month was horrible, because I didn’t do anything for a year.
Dime: No basketball, whatsoever?
AM: Didn’t touch a basketball.
Dime: Not a jumpshot? Not a…
AM: Not a jumpshot. I didn’t touch a basketball. Nothing. It was like being injured, I guess. But self-imposed, obviously. So yeah, I didn’t do anything.
Dime: How’d that feel? I’ve heard you say before that your time away wasn’t bad…
AM: No, exactly. It wasn’t bad. But it was tough… You miss the camaraderie, you miss the locker room, you miss the competition, but you don’t miss the bullshit. You know, the politics. You don’t miss that. I mean, that’s why after I got cut, I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. And I don’t want to make it sound like a pity party or that it was on anybody else. It was obviously on me. But I just was like, I’m not really cut out for this anymore.