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After trade, Monte Morris seizes opportunity to start for Washington Wizards
Former Cyclone enjoys watching T.J. Otzelberger’s team
DALLAS, Texas — Last summer, Monte Morris was pretty sure he wasn’t being traded and would remain a Denver Nugget.
However, on July 6, the former Iowa State standout learned he and Will Barton would be headed to the Washington Wizards in a four-player deal.
“Kind of (surprising),” Morris said during a recent road trip to Dallas. “I’d talked with the GM and they were saying I shouldn’t be traded. When I got the call, I was OK. This is a business, so I don’t really put much into it. It is what it is. Yeah (I’m still getting paid to play basketball), and I’m able to start.
“I could have gone to a different situation where I was still trying to compete for minutes, but I got a chance here to start. It’s something I always dreamed about, being a starter in the league.”
Between 2013 and 2017, the Flint, Mich., product was a key cog for the Cyclones, playing in 140 career games, 121 of those starts, and averaging 16.4 points, 6.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game as a senior.
Those are years he remembers fondly.
“Phenomenal. It was just fun. Everything was what I thought it would be as an 18-year-old going in,” Morris said with a huge smile. “Being all-time in three categories there, people from Flint, Mich., don’t get that opportunity.
“I was able to do that and play for everybody back home. They were living through me.”
And after working with current Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger when Otzelberger was an ISU assistant under now former head coach Fred Hoiberg, he’s not surprised to see Iowa State faring so well in the Big 12.
“Big time, he’s a hell of a coach. They run some great sets,” Morris said. “He’s got a great staff with him. He’s just always been a competitor. Even my freshman year when we were under Hoiberg, he was always a want-to-win coach who took recruiting seriously and all that.
“He’s doing a great job.”
The move to D.C. has worked out quite well for Morris, who through 43 games, all starts, is averaging 10.4 points along with 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds, both career-highs, while playing just under 29 minutes a night.
“Yeah, it’s been cool,” Morris said of the move to the Wizards. “Getting better every day, getting more familiar with the guys and everything. It’s been good.”
One nice bonus attached to the shift to the Wizards is he’s reunited with Kyle Kuzma, a fellow Flint product who he attended elementary school and was once teammates with.
“Yeah, it’s dope. Me and Kuz, we got so much chemistry,” Morris said. “We can tell without even speaking how the other is feeling. We used to play with each other on video games, create ourselves and play dynasty mode. So, it’s dope to actually do it in real life.”
Despite being one of the newer faces in the Washington locker room, Morris already has made quite the favorable first impression on his new teammates like second-year player Corey Kispert, who raves about what a positive addition the ex-Cyclone has been on the floor and in the room.
“Kind of steadies the ship for us. He never acts out of character,” Kispert said. “He always takes care of the ball. Great passer and a consistent shooter, that’s something we really need at the head of our offense.
“We’re all happy he’s here. He’s a great guy, been around. He really just brings consistency to us.”
Now 27, Morris is in his sixth NBA season after spending his first five campaigns with the Nuggets, who selected him in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft. His first contract in the Association was a two-way deal, an arrangement where players split time between the NBA and their affiliate in the G-League.
Morris worked hard and did everything he had to do to earn minutes from Denver head coach Mike Malone. Last season, he averaged 12.6 points while playing 29.9 minutes per game, both career highs. Morris did this while playing 75 games for the Nuggets, including a career-best 74 starts.
On Dec. 14, 2022, he returned to Denver for the first time as a visitor, and he and Barton were honored by the Nuggets with tribute videos for their years with the organization.
Morris had 20 points and seven assists that night against his old team in a losing effort. But no matter whether he’s been playing during his formative years in Flint, at Iowa State, in the G-League, or most recently in the NBA, this ex-Cyclone never forgets how fortunate he is to still be playing basketball.
“Very (blessed), best job in the world. I took a step back (after being traded) and realized it’s still basketball at the end of the day, something you’ve been doing all your life,” he said. “You just have fun with it while you can because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“Yeah, I’m just happy to wake and go, I’ve got a game (to prepare for).”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.