Wizards trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Monte Morris

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When Wes Unseld Jr. returned to Denver in December for the first time since becoming the Washington Wizards’ head coach, Monte Morris was there to greet him.

The Nuggets’ point guard was one of a handful of players who walked over to Washington’s sideline before the game to hug Denver’s former top assistant; Morris approached Unseld with a wide grin and an outstretched hand before embracing him and making him double over with laughter.

The pair may have more good times on the sideline ahead.

In the first major move of the offseason, the Wizards agreed to trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith for Morris and veteran wing Will Barton, according to two people with knowledge of the transaction. The move will not become official until July 6, when the league finalizes salary-cap and luxury-tax numbers for the 2022-23 season.

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The deal comes the day before free agency begins and checks off one of the Wizards’ top two priorities of the summer: to find a reliable solution at point guard.

The other priority is to re-sign the Bradley Beal cornerstone franchise to a long-term contract.

Beal has until 5 pm Wednesday to exercise his $ 36.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season or opt out as expected. If he declines his option, Beal can re-sign with the Wizards for a maximum contract worth roughly $ 250 million over five years or join a different team, either through free agency or a sign-and-trade deal.

Staying with the Wizards is financially prudent for the guard, who turned 29 on Tuesday. The biggest contract any other team could offer Beal is worth around $ 185 million over four years.

Should Beal return, he’ll find in place a stable point guard guard who checks off plenty of Washington’s boxes. The Athletic first reported the trade.

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Morris, 27, is not the missing piece to compete a hypothetical “big three” featuring Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.

But he possesses three assets that make him an excellent fit for the Wizards: He is a capable defender; he is more concerned with keeping the team organized and dishing assists than scoring; and he is owed just over $ 18.9 million over the next two seasons. For a team that may soon be tied up with a massive contract for Beal and owes Porzingis nearly $ 70 million in the next two years, that is a friendly salary.

People in Washington’s front office also like Morris’s leadership skills and appreciate his path to the pros. The guard signed a two-way contract with Denver in 2017 and worked his way up to starting 74 games last year while Jamal Murray was rehabbing an ACL injury.

Morris averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists per game last season. And though he isn’t considered a score-first guard, he can put the ball in the hoop – his 58.3 true shooting percentage was eighth among all point guards last season, tied with Dallas’s Jalen Brunson.

As a bonus, he and Washington forward Kyle Kuzma have ties that extend back to grade school.

Barton, a 31-year-old wing who could slot in nicely behind Beal on the depth chart, is a Baltimore native who also has experience with Unseld from their days together in Denver. He averaged 14.7 points in more than 30 minutes a game last season and shot 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range.

Members of the Wizards front office like his versatility. Barton can create his own scoring opportunities or set up others, and come off the bench or start as needed.

Washington will still need to find depth behind Morris at point guard, as Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky are both set for free agency. The team hosted a pair of potential prospects in a three-day minicamp over the weekend in Kris Dunn, the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and Pierria Henry, an American-born guard who has become a EuroLeague standout over the past few years .

Veteran point guard Smith, meantime, is headed to his 13th team, an NBA record.

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