Otto Porter Jr. was struggling to remain calm and contain his emotions but they slowly started taking over. He was filled with the excitement of reaching a place that many in his tiny home town in southeast Missouri – including his father – had only dreamed of being, and with the joy of realizing he would be staying in familiar territory in Washington.
Porter couldn’t hide his smile and even fought back a few tears as he fielded questions at a podium only a few minutes after he found out the Washington Wizards had taken him third overall in the NBA draft. But before the sophomore all-American from Georgetown could leave the stage after a nearly seven-minute interview, Porter was hit with a question that almost doused some of his enthusiasm.
An inquisitor in the front row leaned into a microphone and asked: “Otto, obviously you’re a fine player. Do you think Monumental Sports made a decision to draft you to sell some tickets in the Verizon Center?”
Somewhat startled, Porter responded: “I think they really brought me there to help the organization win. And that’s what I’m going to do when I go there.”
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis’s connection to Georgetown — he graduated from the school in 1977 — was certainly a factor in the selection of Porter. But the Wizards selected the 20-year-old more for his talent, versatility and character than for any residual effects at the box office. Porter likely would’ve been the choice if he had descended from Mars.
The franchise has moved beyond the era when former team executive Susan O’Malley wasn’t shy about plucking a player from Georgetown or Maryland to attract a local crowd.
Porter is a Wizard because Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and his staff and Coach Randy Wittman felt he was the best fit for a team that already has a promising back court in John Wall and Bradley Beal and is looking to break free from the rut of annual 20-win seasons.
“I think he’s going to fit right in,” Wittman said. “We’ve talked about what we wanted to establish here last year from a defensive standpoint; he fits that category. He’s a guy that’s versatile. I think he’s going to be able to guard multiple positions. He gives us really good size. He’s just a guy you can put in there and he’s going to make different players better. That’s a huge asset for us.”
Porter, a do-it-all forward with long arms and high basketball intelligence, boldly stated that he expects the Wizards – who have won just 72 games in the three years since Leonsis bought the team – to be in the playoffs next season.
“I feel like once I go there I’m just going to work hard in everything I do. I feel like everything else will take care of itself,” Porter said. “I feel like with the talent that we have, with the leadership that we have, I think we can make that run next year.”
Porter is already quite familiar with the Wizards, having watched the team play over the past two seasons. He also has a relationship with Beal dating from when they were in high school and Beal, a native of St. Louis, unsuccessfully tried to recruit Porter to his AAU team.
With Wall penetrating into the lane, Porter knows that he and Beal needed to help spread the floor. But Porter is also capable of creating for others, which he often did last season with the Hoyas.
“I feel like I can come in and give a lot of energy right off the bat,” Porter said. “Give them that lift that they need, be that glue guy that brings the team together. And come to work hard and have a winning mentality the whole time.”
Porter’s arrival creates an interesting situation at small forward. Trevor Ariza, a starter before losing his job to Martell Webster after straining his left calf, opted into the final season of his deal worth $7.7 million. Webster, the Wizards’ best three-point shooter, will be an unrestricted free agent next week.
“Trevor opted in, so we’re going to have him next year, and this doesn’t affect Martell at all,” Grunfeld said. “All those players are very versatile players. They all can play two, maybe even three positions, so I think they’re all going to fit in well together.”
But Grunfeld is optimistic about the perimeter trio that Wall, Beal and Porter could eventually become. They have a chance to potentially be a slightly better version of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, a group that helped the Detroit Pistons win the 2004 NBA championship. Wall would be in the roles of scorer/playmaker, with Beal serving as sharp-shooter and Porter providing time as a defensive-minded wing who can occasionally run the team as a point forward.
“I think we have three positions filled with very young players in their original rookie contracts,” Grunfeld said. “I mean Otto is 20 years old. Bradley’s going to be 20 tomorrow as a matter of fact, and John is 22, so we have three very solid players we can build with moving forward.”
Porter expects the talent to yield immediate results for the Wizards, who haven’t advanced to the postseason since 2008. The Eastern Conference has already experienced a major shake up with Boston and Atlanta starting to rebuild and Milwaukee staring at an uncertain and possibly unstable summer.
“We’re going to do damage next year,” Porter said. “I already know what they bring to the table. All I do is plug myself in there, and it’s going to be fun.”
It might even produce a few more ticket sales.