Very few days go by where Darius Morris isn’t doing something at the gym.
He’s gone to the Lakers’ practice facility nearly every day this offseason in hopes to strengthen his body, improve his shooting and build more awareness in tempering his speed. Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco routinely tweets out Vine videos of Morris working out.
Morris may have had a minor role in his first two seasons with the Lakers. But his enthusiasm for the daily grind hasn’t soured. And that might be just enough for the Lakers to extend a $1.2 million qualifying offer to Morris before June 30, which would make him a restricted free agent and allow the Lakers to match any offer that comes his way.
“Definitely,” Morris said on wanting to stay with the Lakers. “You want to be at a place that values you and want to help them out to win championships. I’ve grown up being a part of it.”
And he hopes to continue to grow by adopting one simple formula.
“I’m just working hard in the gym and trying to take advantage of the resources,” Morris said recently at a Time Warner Cable Media sponsored event. “I want to be in there every day doing certain drills with the offense. I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
The items on Morris’ agenda seem plenty.
Morris has tried gaining muscle from his 6-foot-4, 190 pound frame through increased weight training and Pilates classes so he can better defend shooting guards and even small forwards. Coach Mike D’Antoni experimented with Morris playing as the team’s defensive stopper on the perimeter, even starting him against the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony. He wasn’t necessarily ready.
“It’s something I wasn’t used to. When D’Antoni took over, he told me the more things you can do, the better chances you’ll have at getting playing time,” Morris said. “I’m trying to play my game. I know where my roots are at point guard. But you have to be diverse. I had to get used to that. I had to think a little bit more. You might not have all the physical advantages. But with effort, you can make up for that.”
Morris averaged four points on 38.8 percent shooting and 1.6 assists in 14.2 minutes per game. With the exception of late-game situations, Morris soon fell out of the rotation as the Lakers tried fighting for playoff contention. The Lakers also sensed Morris played erratic at times, both with his tendency to force the issue with either his superior speed, shot or driving into the lane.
“I just got to get those little kinks out. A lot of experiences allowed me to make those mistakes,” Morris said. “So I have to make sure there’s no excuses and I don’t make the same mistakes. I have to make sure they’re different ones. It’s not going to be perfect, but I just have to cut down on some of the plays where I’m wondering, ‘Why did I do that?’ I have to get back to adjust to the quickness, length and speed. I think I can do it, but i have to bring it out on myself.”
In a way, Morris also already progressed in those areas.
He averaged 2.4 points on 42.9 percent shooting in 8.9 minutes per game in his rookie season under Mike Brown. Morris’ flashy game and Brown’s conservative nature didn’t mesh. D’Antoni gave Morris more freedom to operate and more creativity in using him, ranging from backup point guard to backup shooting guard. Morris also consulted frequently with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant on finding the right balance in his game. Should the Lakers resign him, Morris also plans to play in the team’s Vegas Summer League from July 12-22.
“A lot of times when I came off the bench, I thought I had to make it all happen,” Morris said of his rookie season. “I’m maturing into the game and being able to read your options. You don’t have to score. Make it easy. It’s about being comfortable.”
“I’m getting better, but I have to get a lot more better. “That’s what keeps me going, those signs of improvement.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org