THE JAZZ FINALLY found a way to get Chris Morris interested in a game Thursday night. Put him in it.
It was so simple, you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner.For the first time in almost two weeks, they let Morris play in a game, and just like that the Jazz's problem child was too busy to watch dancing girls, stare into the crowd, sulk, avoid timeout huddles and do crossword puzzles, or whatever it was that he was doing over there on the end of the bench.
Morris found other things to do this time - such as score points (a season-high 20) and collect rebounds (5) and steals (1) while playing a season high 20 minutes in Thursday's win over the Phoenix Suns.
For a night at least, Morris was equal to his considerable talent. After making just three of 22 three-point shots all season, he made four of seven in one night. In all, he made seven of 10 shots and was even seen - and this is the weird part - playing defense. There were witnesses. Ask them. At one point Morris actually dived to the floor for a loose ball and chased a fast break up the court to break up a layup.
But the strangest moment of the night was this: Morris smiled.
Morris said it was the most fun he has had playing basketball since he played for New Jersey. You can decide if that's a compliment.
Morris, you may have noticed, has been in a bad mood for, oh, about three years. But since the Jazz traded him to Orlando 11 days earlier and then untraded him, his mood has been different. It's been much worse.
Morris wanted to play for Orlando, where he thought he would get playing time, rather than return to the Jazz doghouse. And just to make sure everyone knew it, he has made an art out of pouting, gazing off into the stands, watching the Jumbotron, standing apart from the team during timeouts.
Word is, Morris' agent even asked the Jazz to release Morris; the Jazz said fine, but only if they didn't have to pay him the balance of his contract. The Jazz reasoned it was better to pay a guy $3 million to sit on their bench than pay him $3 million to sit on someone else's bench.
Morris's camp said no thanks, suddenly realizing that it might be difficult to find an employer who would pay Morris $3 million to sit on his fanny and watch basketball games.
Something else happened on Thursday. During the morning shoot-around, Jazz president Frank Layden pulled Morris aside and gave him some advice, namely that he should lose the funk.
"He could see the frustration," said Morris. "He could see I was down. I was in my own world, not smiling at anyone, not speaking to anybody. He told me to let it go and to be ready. It's behind me now. Sometimes you don't want to face these situations."
It took a few days, but the Pout-Off is finished. Whatever Layden said, it seemed to work. Morris' enthusiasm during the morning shoot-around caught Sloan's eye, and the coach thought he might be ready to play. During pre-game warmups, Morris stayed on the floor to do some extra shooting after his teammates returned to the locker room. He was going to be ready - which is no small feat for a guy whose name has been followed by DNP (did not play) on the official box score in 25 games this season.
Late in the first quarter, Sloan decided to take advantage of the Suns' small lineup and sent Morris onto the court. Morris left his sweats and his attitude on the bench and entered the game, which was enough to earn him a loud ovation for some reason. Go figure. For two years Morris has been about as pleasant and useful as an ingrown toenail and suddenly he's a sentimental favorite.
Morris was the first one off the bench in the third quarter and by then everything was going his way. He banked in a hurried three-point shot as the shot clock was expiring, and then trotted up the court covering his ears and laughing.
"That was a loud bank; it sounded like it came out of a cannon," he said.
Afterward, Sloan said Morris played great, but don't count on this being the start of a beautiful relationship. Morris is probably the most talented player on the Jazz but also its most enigmatic. Count on it: this will be his last season with the team. Morris' intensity and attitude wax and wane, and this drives Sloan bonkers.
After the game, Sloan acknowledged Morris' "great game" and then chewed out the media for asking too many questions about Morris. "Nobody has asked me about Jacque Vaughn," he said. " . . . I think he is a wonderful person also. So what do we try to do, make a zoo out of this? My job is to win. Let's try to keep that in mind."
Whatever. Let's keep this in mind, too: Morris could have helped him win, but the Jazz never solved the perplexing riddle that he is. At least for one game, the Jazz got another glimpse again of what Morris can be.