Marcus Morris denies that Rich Paul steered him away from Clippers as a favor to LeBron James

Marcus Morris and Rich Paul both shot down speculation that Paul wanted to steer Morris away from competing with LeBron James. (Reuters)

In an NBA offseason filled with compelling stories, the saga that led Marcus Morris to the New York Knicks may be the low-profile most interesting tale.

The veteran forward spurned the San Antonio Spurs after reaching a verbal agreement at the start of free agency in favor of a contract with the New York Knicks.

In the process, he and his agent Rich Paul split up.

After agreeing to the one-year, $15 million deal with the Knicks after reneging on the two-year, $20 million deal with the Spurs, news broke that Morris had turned down a three-year, $41 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, an offer that arrived before the team acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Conflict of interest for Rich Paul?

The news of the Clippers offer spurred speculation that Paul had actually steered Morris away from Los Angeles as a favor to LeBron James. Morris is an above-average defender and has demonstrated success defending the league’s best player over the course of his nine-year career.

Paul has his personal relationship with James largely to thank for the launch of his Klutch Sports agency empire. With the Lakers playing the Clippers four times a season and the two teams among the favorites to compete for the NBA title, conjecture grew that Paul had allowed a conflict of interest with James to influence his dealings with Morris.

Why else would Morris have turned down $41 million to end up with a deal guaranteeing far less than half of that?

Morris: Rumors about Paul ‘not true’

On Monday, Morris shot that speculation down in an interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic, telling him that Paul advised him to sign with the Clippers.

“All this stuff that (Paul) didn’t want me to go to the Clippers and didn’t want me to go against LeBron (James), that’s not true,” Morris told The Athletic. “He never told me not to take the deal. For as long as I’ve known Rich — and that’s still someone I have love for and that’s still my guy — he has been great in terms of advice. He told me he wanted me to take the Clippers deal. He gave me his advice.”

Morris did not explain his reason for rejecting the Clippers deal other than stating he “had to make the best decision for me and my family.”

Paul, Morris on the same page

Morris’ explanation jibes with Paul’s version of the story that he shared with ESPN’s “Jalen & Jacoby” on Monday, calling the premise of doing a favor for James “the most absurd thing I ever heard.”

As for the split, Paul also said that there’s no animosity between the two.

“He made a decision,” Paul said. “We had a conversation as men and decided to go our separate ways. And that’s fine. In business, that happens sometimes.”

Morris: Spurs deal ‘was all I had’

As for the Spurs deal, Morris told Charania that he agreed to it thinking it was his last option after the Clippers deal broke down.

“I was under the impression that I didn’t have anything left,” Morris said. “I thought at the time that the Spurs deal was all that I had. The process wasn’t what I expected, and it didn’t go the right way.”

When the Knicks offer came up, he says it was an opportunity to be closer to his friends and family in Philadelphia. It was also an opportunity to make more money next season and leave open the opportunity of a more lucrative longer-term deal next summer.

Paul urged Morris to honor his agreement with the Spurs, according to Charania, before the two eventually dissolved their business relationship.

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