The last time Porter stepped on that floor to play a competitive game of five-on-five was in mid-September, when the third overall draft pick and former all-American from Georgetown slipped and hyperextended his hip. Porter pulled his hip flexor and irritated the nearby joint, causing a pain so unbearable that he expected to miss some time.
“The way it happened I knew something was wrong, right then and there,” Porter said Monday. “I knew it wasn’t a one-week or two-week type thing, but I really didn’t know it would be this long.”
Porter’s absence led to speculation about the severity of the injury and concern that the 6-foot-9 swingman would miss the season. He understood the frustrations of those concerned about his well-being but had to resist the urge to rush back.
“One of your players go down hurt, you want to know how he’s doing day-to-day. The best thing that person can do is say, ‘Hey, I’m getting there,’ ” Porter said with a shrug. “It’s a lot of work you’ve got to put into it. It was frustrating at times, where I felt like I was getting ready to go over that hump and something else kind of knocked me back down.”
Coach Randy Wittman knew Porter was increasing his basketball-related activities, but he said he was “pleasantly surprised” when the Wizards’ training staff informed him Monday that Porter was ready to go.
Chris Singleton, who has been sidelined since late September with a Jones fracture in his left foot, also practiced for the first time and Trevor Ariza, who has been nursing a strained hamstring, returned as well. But Wittman said Ariza would be the only member of the trio to play when the Wizards (5-8) host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Ariza will return to the starting lineup.
Wittman wants to bring Porter along slowly to help him regain his conditioning and develop familiarity with the system. “Because the last thing you want to do is throw him out and he gets hurt again,” Wittman said of Porter, who also experienced some tightness in his hamstring during summer league play last July in Las Vegas. “Those are kind of things you stay away from. You’ve got to get him in shape and see what happens.”
Porter said he “felt great” after his first practice but he also wants to ease his way back. He couldn’t predict when he will make his NBA debut. “If I knew, I’d tell you,” he said with a smile. “Basically, I got to take it one day at a time. I can’t overdo practice and if I get tired, I’ve got to let them know, to pull me back. Because I want to be out there. I kind of just went out there to test the waters a little bit.”
Over the past few weeks, Porter has heeded advice from Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld; doctors and trainers from the Wizards and Georgetown; hip specialists in Washington and Nashville; his parents, Otto Sr. and Elnora; and his agent, David Falk.
“Otto loves basketball, so for a rookie player to have his career postponed, he’s naturally anxious to get on the floor,” Falk said in a telephone interview. “All of us understand what we have to do. We can’t allow the fact that he’s a local guy and the fact that people are anxious to see him play interfere with the correct decision of when he gets on the floor and not re-injure himself. We don’t want do anything that would jeopardize his career.”
Falk added that the working relationship with Grunfeld and the Wizards has been “terrific” and that all parties involved are on “the same page” in protecting what is considered a long-term asset for the franchise.
“The good news is, he’s such a fundamentally sound person and he picks things up quickly,” Falk said. “His basketball IQ is very high. With this team, with the expectations that this will be a playoff team, they’re going to need him more at the end than in the beginning.”
Porter has been traveling with the team for every game, carrying a pink and purple Minnie Mouse backpack as part of his rookie hazing and collecting veterans’ sneakers after shoot-arounds. But he also has been taking note of how he will best fit in when he returns.
“It’s a team thing,” Porter said. “We’re trying to work together as a team to make sure I’m 100 percent out there and confident.
“It really did throw me off a lot. It really was a setback,” Porter said of his injury.
He added that he has mostly leaned on his parents for encouragement through the longest separation from basketball in his life. “They’ve been coaching me through this whole thing, because they’ve been there. They know. They’ve played the game and been injured before. You’ve just got to be patient because the outcome will be better,” Porter said.
“My mom said I dealt with it pretty good to be the first time. I’m not going to let this keep me down. It’s just a game that I love to play.”