Heat forward Markieff Morris, who has been sidelined since Nuggets center Nikola Jokic shoved him to the floor three months ago, wants to play in games but the team still has not cleared him to do so, multiple sources told The Miami Herald this week.
The Heat’s position has left in question when or if the veteran power forward will return to play this season.
Morris’ injury — sustained in that Nov. 8 game in Denver — was termed “whiplash” by the Heat. The Heat is now listing him as out because of a “return to competitive reconditioning.” But the team has declined to discuss his status, what he has been cleared to do physically or whether he will play again this season.
On Jan. 6, Morris tweeted “I said what I said! Heat nation I’ll see y’all soon!!”
But he hadn’t tweeted anything about a possible return since, until he saw discussion of this Miami Herald story on social media. He then tweeted “Both sides concerned. Don’t trip though you’ll see me again this year! That’s a Fact!”
Saturday’s game in Charlotte will be the 44th consecutive game he will miss.
The Heat’s specific medical concern with Morris isn’t clear, but the sources said it was significant enough to make the Heat uneasy about clearing him to play, at least to this point, and significant enough to leave the team concerned about liability issues.
It’s important to note that Morris’ neck injury wasn’t his first. In January 2019, while playing for the Washington Wizards, Morris was ruled out for six weeks following a bout of neck and upper back stiffness that led to him being diagnosed with transient cervical neurapraxia.
According to sportsmedtoday.com, servical cord neurapraxia (CCN), “is a rare but dangerous cervical spine (neck) injury. TQ is usually caused by cervical spinal cord trauma, which can occur after a neck hyperextension or hyperflexion injury with possible axial loading (pressure applied to the top of the head). The incidence is approximately 0.2-2 per 100,000 athletes.”
An associate said Morris very much wants to be playing now. His representative did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Morris, 32, has been spotted working out on the court before games but mostly hasn’t traveled with the team and isn’t on the ongoing six-game road trip. Morris also tweeted Saturday that he has been “cleared.”
Players who are cleared medically and are merely working themselves into NBA game condition sometimes travel with the Heat.
Victor Oladipo has traveled on this trip, participating in intense post-practice sessions while working his way back from last summer’s quadriceps tendon surgery.
Morris attended a January game in Phoenix, but only because he had a doctor’s appointment in the area.
“He had an appointment on the West Coast and it made a lot of sense just to meet us here,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on Jan. 8. “He was able to go through some practice today and he’ll be able to fly back with us.”
Morris didn’t fly back with the team on that trip because he tested positive for COVID-19.
Spoelstra has declined to update Morris’ status in recent weeks.
And Morris has not been practicing with the team in at least the past week.
In early January, Morris – in a response to a social media post emphasizing the fact that he has missed two months because of whiplash – wrote on Twitter: “Ain’t [expletive] wild about it! It’s a real injury! Imagine having a 300 pound sloppy fat boy run full speed and make direct contact with your spine! I’ll be back soon like I said.”
Morris signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract in August and entered the season as the backup power forward behind P.J. Tucker.
He averaged 7.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 18.7 minutes in 10 games, all off the bench, for the Heat before the injury, while shooting 36.4 percent on three-pointers.
The Heat had a similar disagreement with Hall of Fame forward Chris Bosh; the team believed it was not safe for him to play because of blood clots, while Bosh disagreed. The Heat’s decision ended his tenure with the team and Bosh never played again. The sides subsequently have repaired their relationship.
Morris’ uncertain status could motivate the Heat to explore adding backup power forward depth before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
But even if he doesn’t return, the Heat could always use Jimmy Butler or Caleb Martin or KZ Okpala at power forward when Tucker isn’t in the game, or could use a combination of starting center Bam Adebayo paired with either Dwayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven at the power rotation spots, during short stretches.
THIS AND THAT
After shootaround in advance of Saturday’s 7 p.m. Heat-Hornets game, Spoelstra said decisions would be made close to game time on the availability of three players listed as questionable – Martin (sore left Achilles’ tendon), Max Strus (right quadriceps contusion) and Tucker (left knee irritation).
Martin said he plans to play; Strus indicated he wasn’t sure.
“They all went through shootaround,” Spoelstra said. “It was not a training camp practice.”
Center Omer Yurtseven, who missed the past three games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, said he did not experience any symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19.
“It feels amazing to be back,” said Yurtseven, who’s vaccinated, like every Heat player. “Back with the team, back with the guys. Never had this kind of thing happen before…. [Being away from the team], your blood is boiling, just like, ‘I want to be out there. I want to be out there.’ Even just cheer them, be there, be present. I guess it just makes you appreciate it way more.”
Here’s my Saturday piece on Caleb Martin, who returned to Charlotte for the first time since the Hornets released him. He explains the significance of a key moment when Erik Spoelstra stared at him last summer.
This story was originally published February 5, 2022 1:39 PM.