The first time Otto Porter flew on a plane came in 2011.
The high school basketball standout from Sikeston, Mo., a rural town of approximately 16,000 located in the southeast part of the state, was headed to Washington, D.C. Specifically, Georgetown University for a recruiting trip.
“I was basically going to a whole new life,” Porter said in 2017. “Leaving home, leaving my comfort zone and pursuing a dream that I had.”
In terms of the area, he never left.
Porter starred for two seasons with the Hoyas and played the next five-plus seasons with the Wizards, who selected the 6-foot-8 forward with an efficient game and quiet demeanor third overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Though never on the same plane as Washington’s two headliners, John Wall and Bradley Beal, Porter’s addition and subsequent hefty contract extension signaled plans for a heralded trio.
The Wizards jettisoned those plans Wednesday night in the name of financial flexibility. Porter no longer calls the DMV his work home.
This stunning deal – Porter to the Chicago Bulls for forwards Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, plus a 2023 second-round pick – emerged quickly to address a long-standing issue while ending the established plan.
Washington, with only five players under contract, exceeded the projected $109 million contract for next season primarily because of commitments to Wall, Beal, and Porter. Maybe the front office cobbles together a viable 9-10 man rotation with three as the linchpins. They led the Wizards to 49 wins during the 2016-17 season and three second-round playoff appearances.
Wall’s torn Achilles flipped the script and moved salary cap and luxury tax worries to the center of the action.
Moving Beal, a two-time All-Star, seems impossible unless a full rebuild becomes the new plan. It's not.
Dealing the remaining one-plus seasons of Ian Mahinmi’s large tab would require the addition of coveted draft picks. There’s no moving Wall with his injuries and contract.
That left Porter, who signed a four-year, $106 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets in 2017 that Washington matched.
The trade dropped the Wizards tax bill from $8.96 million to $3.34 million, per ESPN, and its 2019-20, salaries to $89.5 million in guaranteed contracts. Washington later went completely under the tax by trading Markieff Morris and a 2023 second-round selection to New Orleans for Wesley Johnson.
No longer choked by finances, Washington can breathe more comfortably heading into the off-season. The Wizards are not locked into keeping Parker or Portis beyond this season. Extending Portis, a rugged power forward, seems likely.
“I prefer Otto,” a former NBA front office executive texted to NBC Sports Washington moments after the trade, “but if it’s gotta be done to clear money, getting Portis and a second seems like a decent deal.”
There’s some irony with finances taking a primary role in an Otto Porter sendoff since for many his contract came to define the player more than his many winning traits.
In 2013, Syracuse’s longtime head coach Jim Boeheim overlooked the rivalry with Georgetown to deem Porter the “best all-around” small forward in Big East history. Once Porter overcame some initial struggles on the NBA level, league executives and opposing coaches came to praise the parts of his game that do not register in any box score but makes basketball minds swoon.
Those that love numbers also covet the highly efficient forward. Porter finished top-5 in 3-point shooting percentages in consecutive seasons, consistently ranked among the leaders in turnover rate and often paced the Wizards in net rating. He led the Wizards in “Win Shares” the two previous seasons.
The contract overshadowed the work. Max contracts are handed out to franchise-altering players. Porter’s talents are more franchise enhancing.
Porter’s low-key persona stands out amid a cavalcade of outsized NBA personalities. His athleticism, above average for the masses, offered an old-man quality compared to the league’s sky-walkers especially when lingering hip and toe injuries flared up.
NBA fans generally want their heroes loud, proud and above the ground. The kid from rural Missouri is grounded in multiple ways.
The big picture money alone did not move Porter.
If he advanced his game after a pair of solid campaigns, the Wizards figure out a way to keep him. Porter struggled at the start of the season and over his final five games. The 3-point shooting remained steady, but his mid-range game faltered.
Nothing egregious, not worthy of condemnation, though head coach Scott Brooks set a tone by singling out Porter’s lack of aggression after the second game of the season at a point when the team played passively.
Porter returned from a knee injury shortly after Wall played his last game of the season on Dec. 26. The Wizards needed all the usual subtleties from Porter, and then some. At times he popped from the perimeter and apparition into passing lanes. With the team shorthanded, they needed more. With Wall sidelined for the next 12 months and the financial situation limited, Washington decided it needed change.
For a variety of reasons, Porter’s game never took off during this curious season. He will now end the campaign somewhere else even though just a few days prior it appeared set he would continue calling Washington home.
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