Monte Morris’s flight to Washington had just landed when he got a call from his agent. Still under contract with the Washington Wizards, Morris planned to check out his house in the area.
He did not realize that he would soon be leaving his house to return home.
“My agent said, ‘You’re going home,'” Morris recalled in his hometown of Flint on Saturday. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’ve been traded to the Pistons.'”
“Surreal” is the word Morris, 28, kept coming back to as he spoke to the media at Durant Park in Flint. One of Michigan’s most accomplished high school basketball players, Morris had long dreamed of playing for the Detroit Pistons, the team he grew up watching.
Before he was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft by the Denver Nuggets, he told the Free Press that he would love to have the opportunity to wear the classic red, white and blue Pistons jersey. Six years later, it has become his reality.
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“I’ve always dreamed of playing for the Pistons, right where I grew up,” he said Saturday. “I was in the Boys and Girls Club a lot. We would get a lot of Pistons gear and I remember when Chauncey, Ben, Tayshaun and Rip came down, it was like 2003 I think. I was 8 years old and running around the Boys and Girls Club. I know what it feels like to be a Piston. I used to watch the games in nosebleeds at Palace. That pride in just being a Piston, I know what that feels like.”
The Pistons traded Morris on June 30, late on the first night of free agency negotiations. They coveted the 6-foot-2 point guard, who is one of the NBA’s best ball handlers and will add shooting and experience to their young backcourt.
But it goes beyond the game for Morris, who led Flint Beecher to back-to-back state titles in 2012 and 2013 and received Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award as a senior in 2013. He has long been involved in philanthropic efforts in Flint and expects to do more work in the community now that he is back.
“I’m always big on giving back,” Morris said. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s the youth right here that matters. When I was younger, Mateen (Cleaves) and Charlie (Bell) and Mo Pete (Morris Peterson) and those guys, they did it and you couldn’t wait to go to their camps at (Flint) Northwestern and stuff. I feel like it’s my turn to step into that role and I’m ready to do it.”
The FlintNOW Foundation, founded by Pistons owner Tom Gores, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday for a newly renovated basketball court at Durant Park in Flint. The court displays a mural designed by Flint native Jamiersen Green, who was also in attendance. Morris, who arrived about an hour and a half into the event, was immediately the man of the hour.
In addition to the ribbon cutting, the Pistons held an on-court basketball clinic for children and teenagers. Morris, surrounded by families from Flint and the surrounding area, addressed the group after the clinic and took questions from young fans in the audience.
He represents the Pistons, but he knows his responsibility runs deeper.
“First of all, this is my town,” he said. “Secondly, I’m a Detroit Piston and anything I can do to impact the youth and impact the community, the community needs this. And we’re going to keep doing more like this to keep the community together and shine a light on it. We get a lot of negative publicity a lot. It’s on me and I’m going to be proud of it all year, just doing things to do here and just getting that juju back here. It’s easier now to do it now that I’m 45 minutes away. I’m right here.”
Of course, Morris is also excited about playing basketball. He joined his new teammates in Las Vegas for Summer League earlier this month, and came away encouraged. The Pistons, coming off a 17-win season, expect to be an improved team. The return of Cade Cunningham is perhaps the biggest reason for optimism, but the addition of veterans like Morris has also given the team more confidence that depth wise they will be in good shape to compete.
“Young, athletic,” Morris said. “And they want to learn, they want to win. I talked to Monty (Williams, head coach) and Troy (Weaver, general manager). They said we don’t want this to be a pit stop. We’re actually going to get after it and try to win games. We’re not trying to say we’re rebuilding, and that’s why we’ve shaped the roster that we have and good young guys. Cade looks great, he looks really good. Moves well. And then you have those young guys — (James) Wiseman, JD (Jalen Duren), (Jaden) Ivey.”
Morris is the fourth-oldest player on Detroit’s roster. He will add stability to a backcourt with four players still on their rookie contracts and should be a significant presence in Williams’ rotation. Last season he averaged 10.3 points, 5.3 assists and just one turnover per game. game while shooting 48% overall and 38.2% from 3.
Morris can play on-or-off ball, and he’ll do both next season. After his four-year career at Iowa State, he spent the first five years of his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets. He and Jamal Murray handled the playmaking responsibilities and were also spotted on the rim due to Nikola Jokic’s presence.
Whatever the Pistons need from Morris, he’s eager to provide.
“When I come in, because I’m that vet, I feel like I can shoot the ball,” he said. “I’m not going to be on the ball all the time, so I want to be able to play the ball with Cade, kind of like the Jamal Murray role when me and him were in the backcourt together.
“Whatever situation they want me to play in, I’ve seen it all. I’ve played third, fourth option, second option, all that. I’m just a jumper, bro. I really don’t care.”