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

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NBA free agency doesn’t start until 6 p.m. Thursday, 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 wing Will Barton, according to two people familiar with the transaction. The move 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 ticked off one of their two top priorities for the summer: finding a reliable point guard solution. The other is re-signing franchise cornerstone Bradley Beal to a long-term deal.

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

Bradley Beal rehabilitating his wrist and a local basketball court

Staying with the Wizards is financially smart for Beal, who turned 29 on Tuesday. The largest contract another team could offer the Guard is worth around $185 million over four years.

Should he return, he will line up alongside a reliable point guard who will check many of Washington’s boxes. the athlete first reported on the Morris trade.

Morris, 27, isn’t the missing piece to complete a hypothetical “Big Three” starring Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. But he does have three qualities that make him a great candidate for the Wizards: he’s a capable defenseman; he’s more concerned with keeping the team organized and dishing out assists than scoring; and he’s owed just over $18.9 million over the next two seasons. For a team that may soon be tied with a massive contract for Beal and owes Porzingis nearly $70 million over the next two years, that’s a friendly salary.

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

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

The Wizards rank Johnny Davis at number 10 as he needs poise and position

The point guard averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists last season. And while he’s not considered a first-goal guard, he can put the ball in the hoops: With 58.3 true throw points, he was eighth among all point guards last season, tied with Dallas’ Jalen Brunson.

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

Barton, a Baltimore native, is a 31-year-old wing who could fit in well behind Beal on the depth chart. He averaged 14.7 points in more than 30 minutes per game last season, shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range.

Members of the Wizards Front Office like his versatility. Barton can create his own scoring chances or set up others, coming off the bench or starting as needed.

Washington has yet to find depth behind Morris as a point guard with Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky both set to play freehand. The team hosted two potential prospects over the weekend in a three-day mini-camp in Kris Dunn, the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and Pierria Henry, an American-born guard who has become a EuroLeague standout in recent years.

Veteran point guard Smith, meanwhile, joins his 13th team, an NBA record.