NBA free agency doesn’t begin until Thursday at 6 p.m., but Wednesday was no slow news day for the Washington Wizards.
With the deal, the Wizards checked off one of their top two priorities of the summer: to find 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 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 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 Beal, who turned 29 on Tuesday. The biggest contract any other team could offer the guard is worth around $185 million over four years.
Should he return, he will suit up alongside a reliable point guard who checks off plenty of Washington’s boxes. The Athletic first reported the Morris trade.
The 27-year-old Morris is not the missing piece to complete a hypothetical “Big Three” featuring Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. But he does posses 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 over the next two years, that is a friendly salary.
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 in December for the first time since he took over the Wizards’ reins, Morris was one of a handful of players who walked over to the Washington sideline before the game to greet the former Nuggets assistant. Morris approached Unseld with a wide grin and extended his arm before hugging the coach and making him double over with laughter.
Unseld was a part of the Denver staff that drafted Morris in 2017 and signed him to a two-way contract that season, dividing his time between the NBA and the G League. He worked his way up to start 74 games last season while Jamal Murray was rehabbing an ACL injury — a hard-won path to the pros that people in Washington’s front office appreciate. Wizards brass also noted Morris’s leadership skills.
The point guard averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists 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 point guards last season, tied with Dallas’s Jalen Brunson.
As a bonus, Morris and Washington forward Kyle Kuzma have ties that extend back to grade school.
Barton, a Baltimore native, is a 31-year-old wing who could slot in nicely behind Beal on the depth chart. He averaged 14.7 points in more than 30 minutes per game last season and shot 43.8 percent from the field 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 still will need to find depth behind Morris at point guard because Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky are set to enter free agency. The team hosted a pair of potential prospects in a three-day minicamp over the weekend: 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, meanwhile, is headed to his 13th team, an NBA record.
What to read on the Washington Wizards
Beal gets the max: The 29-year-old guard agreed to a maximum contract that will cement him as the cornerstone of the franchise. Only in Washington do NBA stars get $251 million participation trophies, writes Candace Buckner.
Wes Unseld’s first season: Players praised the coach’s even keel. But the defense was still bad.
Offseason needs: Securing Bradley Beal’s future is at the top of the organization’s to-do list. Finding a permanent solution at point guard is No. 2 on the Wizards’ offseason checklist.
Candace Buckner: Forget the excuses about lineup disruption, chemistry issues brought on by the massive trade-deadline makeover and Bradley Beal’s season-ending injury. The Wizards took a step back this year.
Peace for Kristaps Porzingis: The big man called Washington the “perfect place” to help him reach his career goal because of the Wizards’ mix of young and veteran players.
Kyle Kuzma’s fashion game: What started as a desire to look sharp became part of his identity when he was drafted with the 27th pick in 2017 and he moved to Los Angeles.