- The Washington Times
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Washington Wizards have found their point guard.

The Wizards agreed Wednesday to trade guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for guards Monte Morris and Will Barton, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The deal gives Washington a reliable veteran point guard in Morris as he started 74 games for Denver in the place of an injured Jamal Murray last season.

Morris and Barton reunite with coach Wes Unseld Jr., who was an assistant in Denver for six seasons before landing the Washington gig. The two made up Denver’s starting backcourt.

The Wizards had been openly searching to land a veteran point guard after trading Spencer Dinwiddie at the deadline in February. Washington’s front office cut ties with Dinwiddie just months upon signing him to a three-year, $54 million deal as his fit with the Wizards proved to be awkward alongside star Bradley Beal. 

Asked what the team was looking for in their next point guard, Unseld identified a lot of characteristics that — now in retrospect — described Morris. 

“I don’t think you need any old-school point guard, but you do need a guy that understands the flow of the game, who can play beyond just getting your offense orchestrated,” Unseld said. “Get guys set, get them in the right spots. Kind of feel it. Who’s got a game going, who needs a shot, who has a match-up advantage? All those details, I don’t know, those aren’t things you can necessarily teach.”

Morris demonstrated that type of feel in Denver. The 27-year-old has ranked in the top five in assist-to-turnover ratio over the last four seasons, rarely turning the ball over while feeding teammates. Morris averaged a career-high 4.4 assists to only 1 turnover per game last season. He also enjoyed a career year in which he scored 12.6 points and logged 29.6 minutes per game. 

The former 2017 second-rounder out of Iowa saw an uptick in playing time because Murray missed the whole year with a torn ACL. But the 6-foot-2 guard thrived in the situation, showing the Nuggets he could be a capable starter rather than just come off the bench. He knocked down multiple big shots over the course of the season, including a game-winning 3-pointer at Golden State.

As for Barton, the Wizards acquired a crafty wing who has the ability to create his own shot. With the Nuggets hit hard by injuries, Barton emerged last season as the team’s third-leading scorer next to MVP center Nikola Jokic. The 31-year-old, who grew up in Baltimore, averaged 14.7 points per game.

It remains to be seen whether Barton will come off the bench or start for Washington. The former 2012 second-rounder was mostly a starter in Denver, playing both shooting guard and small forward. Barton spent seven-plus seasons with the Nuggets after beginning his career in Portland. 

Barton has a history of injuries — he underwent hip surgery in 2018 — but played in 71 games in 2021-22. 

The Nuggets, meanwhile, acquire a wing defender they’ve reportedly long sought in Caldwell-Pope. With Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returning from injuries, the Nuggets sought to upgrade their defense to take advantage of their championship window as Denver is expected to contend next season. 

Caldwell-Pope played just one season for the Wizards. He averaged 13.2 points per game and shot 39% from deep in 77 games after being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Smith gives Denver depth at point guard. A journeyman, the Nuggets will be Smith’s 13th team — which sets an NBA record as long as the 33-year-old actually appears in a game for them.

The deal comes as the Wizards prepare to offer Beal a max five-year, $250.9 million contract to re-sign with Washington.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.