Bradley Beal opts out; Wizards Trade Kentavious Caldwell Pope For Monte Morris

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NBA free agency doesn’t start until Thursday at 6 p.m., but Wednesday was not a slow news day for the Washington Wizards.

In the team’s first big off-season move, Washington agreed to trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to Denver for point guard Monte Morris and veteran wing Will Barton, according to two people with knowledge of the transaction. The move won’t be official until July 6, when the league finalizes its salary cap and luxury tax figures for the 2022-23 season.

With the deal, the Wizards have ticked off one of their two top priorities of the summer: finding a reliable solution at point guard. The other is to re-sign franchise cornerstone Bradley Beal to a long-term contract.

Beal declined his $36.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein, and became a free agent for the first time in his career. The guard can now re-sign with the Wizards for a maximum contract worth approximately $250 million over five years or join another team, either through a free agency or sign-and-trade deal.

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Staying with the Wizards makes financial sense for Beal, who turned 29 on Tuesday. The largest contract any other team could offer the guard is worth about $185 million over four years.

Should he return, he will fit in with a trusted security guard who checks off many of Washington’s boxes. the athletic first reported Morris trade.

27-year-old Morris isn’t the missing piece to complete a hypothetical “Big Three” with Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. But he has three assets that make him a great fit for the Wizards: he’s a capable defender; he is more concerned with organizing the team and providing assists than scoring; and he owes just over $18.9 million over the next two seasons. For a team soon to be stuck with a huge contract to Beal and Porzingis owing nearly $70 million over the next two years, that’s a friendly paycheck.

Morris, Barton and Coach Wes Unseld Jr. also have a previously established relationship from their years together with the Nuggets. When Unseld returned to Denver for the first time since taking over the reins of the Wizards in December, Morris was one of the few players to walk to the Washington sidelines before the game to greet the former Nuggets assistant. Morris approached Unseld with a wide grin and stretched out his arm before hugging the carriage and making him double with laughter.

Unseld was part of the Denver staff that drafted Morris in 2017 and signed him to a two-sided contract that season, splitting his time between the NBA and the G League. He worked his way up to start 74 games last season as Jamal Murray rehabbed an ACL injury — a hard-won path to the pros that people in the Washington front office appreciate. Wizards Brass also noted Morris’s leadership qualities.

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The point guard averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists last season. And while he’s not considered a score-first guard, he can put the ball in the ring: his 58.3 true shooting percentage was eighth of all point guards last season, level with Dallas’s Jalen Brunson.

As a bonus, Morris and Washington forward Kyle Kuzma have ties dating back to elementary school.

A Baltimore native, Barton is a 31-year-old winger who could fit nicely behind Beal on the depth map. He averaged 14.7 points in over 30 minutes per game last season and shot 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point distance.

Wizards front office members appreciate its 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 dig deep behind Morris at point guard, as Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky are both free. The team hosted a few potential prospects in a three-day mini-camp over the weekend with Kris Dunn, the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and Pierria Henry, an American-born guard who has become a star in the EuroLeague in recent years.

Veteran point guard Smith, meanwhile, is on his way to his 13th team, an NBA record.

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