Commentary

Nets deal: Morrow manna from heaven

Undrafted guard needed a job in '08; two years later, he has $12 million contract

Updated: August 27, 2010, 6:23 PM ET
By Ric Bucher | ESPN The Magazine

Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Travis Outlaw and Jordan FarmarAP Photo/Bill KostrounAnthony Morrow (left, 22) joins Johan Petro, Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar as new Nets.

The same day LeBron James changed the course of his career and life forever, Anthony Morrow did the same, receiving an offer sheet with the New Jersey Nets for three years and $12 million.

That's where the parallels end between Morrow and James. The publicity and suspense surrounding the two moves weren't exactly equal. Nor the subsequent scrutiny of what led to the two decisions. And certainly no one is expecting Morrow to do for the Nets what James is supposed to do for the Heat.

Let's face it, Morrow barely moves the needle while James makes it jump. But which deal delivered more satisfaction to the recipient? That would depend on your units of measurement. While James signed a deal worth almost 10 times more and is headed to tropical Miami and a team expected to contend for an NBA title, it's hard to imagine he felt the same mix of joy and relief and gratitude that Morrow did. And does.

"Just two years ago, I was broke," says Morrow, 24. "My mom and I had each other. We struggled. The bills had piled up and she had lost her house and we lived in a lot of different places."

By NBA standards, the Nets' offer -- which the Golden State Warriors transformed into a sign-and-trade deal to at least recoup a trade exception -- was a modest one, but for Morrow it meant the blissful end to life without financial security. His mom would no longer have to work three jobs. She always would have a roof over her head. He could get both his parents, Angela Morrow and Larry Mayhew, out of debt. His 18-month-old daughter, A'niyah, would be assured a college education.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Morrow
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesAnthony Morrow owes much of his NBA success to his 46 percent mark from 3-point range.

So Morrow, an only child, reacted as most of us would when the Nets' offer arrived. "I just jumped up and ran around crazy," he says. "It was like a thousand-pound weight had been taken off my shoulders."

Maybe fans could see that weight on his shoulders as he played for the Warriors the last two years. Undrafted after four years at Georgia Tech, he needed his college coach's connections just to get a tryout for -- coincidentally -- the Heat summer league team in 2008. Then Morrow needed incumbent sharpshooter Daequan Cook to separate his shoulder to open up actual playing time.

"If he doesn't get hurt, I probably don't get a chance to play," he says. "I was next in line."

Morrow parlayed a strong performance for the Heat in the abbreviated Orlando Summer League into a chance to excel for the Warriors in the Las Vegas and Salt Lake City summer leagues. That led to a regular-season roster spot. Which led to his emergence as one of the league's most proficient 3-point shooting threats.

Warriors fans fell in love with him along the way. Even as the ball was swung to his side of the floor, a quiet roar would begin to build in anticipation of Morrow's almost languid, effortless jumper from beyond the 3-point arc.

"Every time he let it go, they expected it to go in," says Warriors GM Larry Riley. "He's one of the best shooters in the league and he's an absolute gym rat."

That work ethic actually may have been a reason he went undrafted. He sustained a stress fracture in his lower back while working out before his junior year at Georgia Tech. He still tried to sneak into the gym to shoot until the coaching staff threatened to make the whole team run at 6 a.m. if he didn't stop until he was cleared to play. He got the green light the first day of the season, which meant months of catching up, conditioning-wise.

More than once he considered leaving school to find a job and help out at home. That's what he'd done throughout high school, joining his mom on a custodial crew that cleaned office buildings, sometimes right after he'd lit up the scoreboard leading Charlotte (N.C.) Latin High to two state titles.

Angela was working at the DMV, driving a school bus and cleaning on the weekends. But she refused to let Anthony drop out. The back improved his senior year but he averaged 14 points and four rebounds for a 15-17 Yellow Jackets squad. Not exactly the kind of numbers from a 22-year-old, 6-foot-5, 215-pound shooting guard/small forward that turn scouts' heads.

Paul Hewitt, then the Georgia Tech coach, got Morrow a spot in a Heat minicamp. His summer league performances earned him an $80,000 offer from a team in the Ukraine, which he planned to take before the Warriors signed him to a two-year minimum contract, worth roughly $1 million.

That's a lot of money for someone from the Little Rock Apartments in Charlotte, a lower-class complex being torn down for a ritzy set of condominiums. Morrow went back in June and paid for a cookout for the neighborhood, held a basketball clinic and commiserated with his former neighbors. Then he went back again in August and delivered backpacks and other school supplies.

"It's a very, very humbling experience to go back there," he says.

Morrow won't ever be an All-Star. He's worked hard at his defense and his ballhandling, but he's below par for a starting swingman in almost every category outside of shooting. But no matter what happens, he's already a wild success. So the next time you see a young man mopping the floors of an office or hauling garbage out of a corporate high-rise, keep in mind that you could be looking at someone who has a unique gift -- and needs everything to break just right to show it.

Ric Bucher is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Ric Bucher

NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer

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