Reports began to surface this morning that the Denver Nuggets were trading Will Barton and Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards to acquire Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith. That trade has since been confirmed by ESPN insider Adrian Wojanrowski as the Nuggets have finally acquired the three-and-d shooting guard they desperately were looking to add to the roster.
Trade is done: Washington is acquiring Denver's Will Barton and Monte Morris for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 29, 2022
To help analyze the deal, Gordon Gross, Peter Leensvaart, and myself provided our thoughts on what it means for the Nuggets.
What are your initial thoughts on the trade, does this make the Nuggets better?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): It definitely makes the Nuggets better next season and it was a move I certainly think they needed to make. I think the Nuggets added the best player of the four in Caldwell-Pope, but following that the player rankings would go Morris, Barton, and then Smith. Was it a slight overpay? Maybe, but to that degree it felt like a move the Nuggets had the luxury to make.
In Caldwell-Pope, the Nuggets have their starting shooting guard next season who can not only score the ball, but can also defend at a high level. Caldwell-Pope has been a knockdown three-pointer shooter on every team he has been on and he’s always been tasked with guarding one of the best players on the opposing team.
Caldwell-Pope seems like a seamless fit with the Nuggets starters, so it definitely feels like an upgrade over Barton. The only downgrade is Morris is better than Smith, but the Nuggets have a back-up point guard in Bones Hyland. There is no telling how Morris and Hyland would have played off one another and it certainly feels like Smith has the capabilities to do that, while also providing the Nuggets another ball handler they could use in a pinch
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): It makes Denver better at the things they struggled with. The Nuggets couldn’t stop wing penetration in almost any configuration last year, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will absolutely help with that. He also buries open threes (threes of all kinds really) without requiring a ton of shots. Murray, MPJ, Bones and of course Jokic will take the majority of shots for this team, so they needed someone who could do the dirty work, attack on offense when needed, and fill a crucial role. They needed the guard version of Aaron Gordon with better shooting, and they got it.
It still leaves them weak if Murray needs more recovery time and a bunch of rest days during the season, though. That’s what happens when you have to address such a vital need. So there’s still roster work to do.
Peter Leensvaart (@petepizza27): This trade definitely makes Denver better, a 3 and D perimeter guard is exactly what Denver has been missing and was the most vital point of improvement needed this offseason in my opinion. Having someone who can take the lead guard matchup every night so Aaron Gordon can focus on wings and rebounding will do wonders for the Nuggets defense. KCP shot 39% from three last season and 41% the year before, he is a proven champion and can bring some veteran leadership to the group. He had a relatively similar season stats-wise to Will Barton last season, but he shot the ball a lot less and did so on better efficiency while being a much better defender. He is most certainly an upgrade at starting SG.
While it obviously sucks having to trade 2 players who were so attached to Denver and the fans here, it was the right move. KCP’s skill set is at a premium in the NBA right now and you can’t win without it. Giving up 2 players who didn’t necessarily fit amazing alongside our franchise point guard for a player who fits really well is a great move. Trading away Monte Morris gives the keys to the bench to Bones Hyland too, with Denver freeing up some cap in this move I don’t think they are done retooling the roster either.
What will you remember about the Will Barton era with the Nuggets?
Ewing: The thing I’ll remember most — and I’ll have more on this in my tribute to Will Barton story this afternoon — is he was a Nugget through and through. Barton endured the tough times with the team and he was here to celebrate the good times. It was eight really solid years in Denver for Barton as he became the first true leader of the Michael Malone era. Barton ushered in the next era of Nuggets basketball and gave us a ton of exciting moments along the way. I wish him nothing but the best and hope he kills it with the Wizards.
Gross: Thrill in the Dunk Contest. Barton putting in 37 in a November thriller against Chicago in 2017 when the rest of the Nuggets were still just wet behind the ears. Will helping Denver avoid the Golden State sweep in the playoffs and making them sweat. Honestly his competitiveness and self-belief really helped this era of the Denver Nuggets believe in themselves. He was one of Nikola Jokic’s first vocal backers, took Murray under his wing. The injury run he’s had is a real shame, because nobody wanted the Nuggets to be great more than Will Barton.
Leensvaart: Willy B Buckets. Need I say more? He’s been a Nugget for just about as long as I’ve been around the team and it’s gonna be weird without him. I’ll remember watching Thrill shoot with confidence like no other regardless of the outcome. I’ll remember watching him score 37 against the Bulls with the game-winning layup back in 2017. It’s unfortunate that Will never got a real healthy run in the playoffs, his willpower and determination to be great was incredible. Will Barton’s self-confidence helped shape this Nuggets team, he is such an important part of what Nuggets culture became. He was an integral part of the team for so many years and his open backing of Nikola Jokić was what personally made me see it in him too. While I thought it was time to move past Thrill as well, it doesn’t mean I’m happy he’s gone and it ended like this.
What will you remember about the Monte Morris era?
Ewing: I will always remember Morris’ path to where he is today. Not many second round picks, especially 51st overall picks carve out a solid NBA career, but Morris accomplished just that. He paid his dues whether that was playing in summer league or the G-League and when his time came he made the most of it. In his five years with the Nuggets, Morris got better and better as he really stepped up last season in the absence of Jamal Murray. Morris is going to absolutely kill it with the Wizards and I’m excited to see what’s next for him.
Gross: The way every vet and every rookie alike would come up to Morris, even when he was just getting his first NBA minutes. Felt like he knew everyone, had time for everyone. He took Davon Reed to the Avalanche playoff games - he was always around Denver, repping Denver. The Flint, MI native reps everywhere he’s been like he was born there and it’s honestly impressive. His steady hand on the bench tiller meant so much to a team prone to wild swings there before his emergence. His ability to step up after Jamal Murray went down helped save a season. Hoping for more great things for Monte going forward - he’s a basketball lifer.
Leensvaart: I will remember Monte Morris as a truly caring and compassionate individual. His story as a second-round draft pick coming from Flint Michigan is truly incredible. You would always see Monte around Denver, he was an active member of the Denver community and I’ve heard nothing but great things about him. Monte was so well-liked and respected throughout the league from a young point in his career, it seemed like he had multiple friends at every game and on every team. I remember seeing him hanging out with Amber Rose back when he was just starting to emerge as a player. I will always remember the Nuggets team of Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Emmanuel Mudiay, and a young Jokić very fondly. I will miss Monte a lot, he was a tremendous person and it’s hard to see someone like that go.
Finally, grade the deal and how do you see Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith fitting in next season?
Ewing: I’m going to give the deal a solid B+. I think the Nuggets got better today with the addition of Caldwell-Pope and even though it’s tough to give up Morris in the deal I think it’ll all work out in the end. It gives the Nuggets a little more cap flexibility as well, so hopefully they can go out and add some more pieces in free agency.
The Nuggets have arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA now when healthy with Murray, Caldwell-Pope, Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic, but the only real question mark is the bench. Besides Hyland and Jeff Green, the Nuggets don’t really have anyone that did a lot last season off he bench, spot hopefully they can add to that part of the roster.
Smith could certainly be a contributor along with a player like Zeke Nnaji and Christian Braun, but the Nuggets could still address the back up two guard and center spot. They have provided themselves with some flexibility to do that in free agency now, so hopefully the Nuggets are not done making moves.
Gross: Denver did the swap to get KCP in and Barton out, for all the fit reasons I talked about earlier. Monte + Barton to make that happen is an overpay, but if Denver uses the non-taxpayer MLE to help bridge that gap then it’s a multi-step process and hard to grade based off this one move. This is also the team that traded a future pick for a first rounder and then didn’t seem to be able to make their first plan for it work, so they have to actually accomplish the goal this sets them up for.
Ish Smith isn’t a great fit but is a fallback in case Denver’s other plans fall through, I assume. That’s fine for now. I can’t yell at Denver about price when I just finished telling them multiple times not to chisel about price, and this clears playing time and a vital on-ball role for Bones Hyland to continue his astronomical growth. We’ll go with a B for just this move. Filled Denver’s need, paid a higher price than I’d like, and if the Nuggets land some other moves to bridge the gap in what the roster still needs it’ll look even better.
Leensvaart: KCP fits into Will Barton’s spot perfectly, he’ll take fewer shots than Will did but he has a very similar archetype just with more defense and is a bit younger. He will be a perfect fit that requires little to no adjustment to what Denver has been doing offensively, but defensively things change a little bit. KCP will likely be taking the primary guard matchup on defense instead of AG, this gives Gordon the ability to focus on a secondary scorer and focus on being more of a help defender and rebounding if Denver chooses to.
Ish Smith’s fit is a little weird though, I think he can play alongside Bones but I think the bench needs more work than that. Ish is a great role player but at only 6 feet he poses some issues on defense. He is still worthy of minutes though, I think he’ll take over the Facu role on this team. He can be an above-average 3rd guard and might not play every game but Ish can bring a lot to this team and is absolutely a good NBA player. Assuming he plays in Denver, he will have played for 13 different teams (the most for any player) so he certainly brings a veteran presence to the team as well.
Overall I think this was a great move, freeing up cap space and getting 2 players who can contribute to the team in a meaningful way is good value for what Will Barton is now and Monte Morris. It’s obviously sad to see them go but this was exactly the type of move Denver needed to make this offseason.