Bradley Beal opts out; Wizards trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Monte Morris

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

In the team’s first major move of the offseason, Washington agreed to trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to Denver for point guard Monte Morris and veteran winger Will Barton, according to two people with knowledge of the deal. . That decision won’t become official until July 6, when the league finalizes salary cap and luxury tax figures for the 2022-23 season.

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

Beal on Wednesday declined his $36.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season, 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 around $250 million over five years or join a different team, either through free agency or a signing deal and exchange.

Bradley Beal rehabilitates his wrist and a local basketball court

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

If he returns, he’ll fit alongside a dependable point guard who ticks many of Washington’s boxes. Athleticism first reported the Morris trade.

Morris, 27, isn’t the missing piece to complete a hypothetical “Big Three” starring Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. But he has three things that make him an excellent candidate for the Wizards: he’s a capable defender; he is more concerned with keeping the team organized and making assists than scoring; and he’s owed just over $18.9 million over the next two seasons. For a team that could soon be tied to a huge contract for Beal and owe Porzingis nearly $70 million over the next two years, that’s a friendly paycheck.

Morris, Barton and coach Wes Unseld Jr. also have an established relationship from their days with the Nuggets. When Unseld returned to Denver in December for the first time since taking over the reins from the Wizards, Morris was among a handful of players who headed to the Washington sideline before the game to greet the former Nuggets assistant. Morris approached Unseld with a broad smile and held out his arm before hugging the coach and making him flinch in laughter.

Unseld was part of the Denver staff that drafted Morris in 2017 and signed him to a two-way contract that season, splitting his time between the NBA and the G League. He rose through the ranks to start 74 games last season while Jamal Murray nursed an ACL injury – a hard-earned path to the pros that people in Washington’s front office enjoy. The brass wizards also noted Morris’ leadership skills.

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

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

Barton, a native of Baltimore, is a 31-year-old winger who could sit well behind Beal on the depth chart. He averaged 14.7 points in over 30 minutes per game last season and shot 43.8% from the floor and 36.5% from three-point range.

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

Washington will still need to find depth behind Morris at point guard, as both Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky are 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, a US-born guard who became a star of the EuroLeague in recent years. .

Veteran point guard Smith, meanwhile, is heading to his NBA-record 13th team.

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