The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For three new Wizards players, D.C. is familiar and an opportunity

Delon Wright, right, is eager for an opportunity to spread his wings in Washington like former college teammate Kyle Kuzma did. (Darron Cummings/AP)

One of Kyle Kuzma’s goals after the Los Angeles Lakers dealt him to the Washington Wizards last summer was to turn an unexpected trade into an opportunity. In quieter, smaller D.C., with fewer stars orbiting, Kuzma vowed to prove he could be more than a decent role player — he could be a leader.

That worked out splendidly for the forward, who led the team in points scored last season. Now, Kuzma is spreading the good word around the NBA, and it sounds something like this: Come to Washington. There’s space here to make a name for yourself.

“He saw me last year playing behind Trae [Young], playing like 12 minutes; some days I might not play,” said Delon Wright, one of the Wizards’ newly acquired guards. “Here, I feel like the opportunity to show more of what I can do. I’ve been bouncing around a lot, adjusting to different systems. [Kuzma] knows what I can do, so that was his recruitment pitch.

“He was probably a better recruiter than [Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard]. He has GM in his future.”

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Wright was one of three players the Wizards introduced this week as free agency slows and rosters around the league — at least those with no space for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — round into form.

Wright, a 6-foot-5 guard; Monte Morris, a 6-2 point guard; and Will Barton, a 6-6 wing, have a few things in common, none stronger than a hunger to make hay on a roster begging for players to step into starring roles.

Wright, 30, has played on six teams since 2018-19 and is striving to make the league’s all-defensive team. He felt he wasn’t being used adequately in Atlanta, his most recent stop, and said Tuesday that Kuzma — a former college teammate at Utah — sold him on Washington as a team that needs strong defenders.

Morris, too, is eager to show he can be a full-time starter. The 27-year-old was traded to the Wizards along with Barton after spending five seasons in Denver, where he worked his way onto the roster from the G League and contributed to four straight playoff appearances. Last season, he started 74 games while Jamal Murray was recovering from a torn ACL and averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists.

For Barton, who was a frequent member of the starting lineup over his eight years in Denver, the trade to Washington represents a different kind of opportunity.

Barton, 31, is a Baltimore native and views the chance to play in front of family and friends as strong motivation. He averaged 14.7 points and shot 36.5 percent from three-point range last season, when he became the Nuggets’ all-time leader in three-pointers. He’s also a standout passer for his position and averaged 3.9 assists.

“Knowing that the open man is the best man,” Barton said Tuesday of his philosophy. “Get some easier shots, get some threes, and just make the ball pop. I feel like when the ball is popping and moving, you have more fun just playing that style of basketball.”

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Barton knows his style of offense will be welcome in Washington because he knows Coach Wes Unseld Jr. well from their time together in Denver.

That’s another thing Wright, Morris and Barton have in common — they all had strong ties to the Wizards before touching down in D.C.

Morris and Barton were with Unseld when he was an assistant with the Nuggets; Wright and Morris are close with Kuzma; and Barton is from the region. He described himself as a big brother to fellow Baltimore native Isaiah Todd, Washington’s second-year forward.

For Morris, comfort equates to confidence. He’s looking forward to reuniting with Unseld and playing with his “best friend,” Kuzma, a fellow Flint, Mich., native whom he has known since their elementary school days. Coming to a new team where the coach already knows his game and he already has a supporter in the locker room means the point guard is more likely to use his voice.

It should be a welcome asset on a team that has struggled to communicate on the court in past seasons.

“I’m not going to be scared to speak up. I’m not going to be scared to give my experience with me playing a lot of playoff games,” Morris said. “... Guys are going to be looking at me to speak up and give my knowledge because I’ve played in the playoffs every year I’ve been in the league.”

Barton feels the same level of comfort with Unseld. Beyond that, nestled in the combination of playing for a new team near his old city, he senses a familiar opportunity to create something strong and lasting with Unseld.

“We helped turn that thing around,” Barton said of their time in Denver. “That’s the goal here — to do the same.”