LAS VEGAS – Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Las Vegas looking to show the Wizards’ coaching staff that he not only belonged in the league but deserved a chance to be a rotation player next season.
After scoring 25 points in the summer league opener on Saturday, Porter was surprised to hear Trevor Ariza was leaving for Houston and immediately claimed that he was coming for the starting small forward job. A few hours later, Porter could barely get excited about the vacancy created by Ariza’s departure because it was immediately filled by the stunning acquisition of likely future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce.
“That’s big for us. The Truth is coming to D.C.,” Porter said. “Man. I heard, I was like, ‘Wow, now that’s a veteran guy.’ That’s a winner, too. He knows how to win playoff games, been there, done it.”
Porter is back to where he began but he isn’t complaining because he might actually be in a slightly better position. Pierce isn’t coming to Washington to ensure that Porter will be buried on the bench for what will essentially be a redshirt freshman season for the third overall pick. If anything, Pierce’s presence will actually open up a chance for more minutes with the 10-time all-star and 2008 Finals MVP unable to carry a heavy load since he will be 37 on opening night.
“Blessing in disguise to have a guy like Paul Pierce come in, especially for Otto,” said Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was Pierce’s teammate when he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008. “It’s a blessing, man, to have that kind of leadership, that kind of experience to come to your team. He’s going to uplift this whole ballclub, it was big that we got him. Huge, rather. Just in that locker room. He’s been captain of the Celtics for 13, 14 years. That’s an honor that’s not too easy to get and he had it for a long time, and when we won a championship, Kevin [Garnett] – Ticket – wasn’t the captain. Ray [Allen] wasn’t the captain. That’s big and we know that.”
In his lone season in Brooklyn, Pierce averaged a career-low 13.5 points in 28 minutes and excelled as a small ball power forward in Jason Kidd’s system. Pierce had no trouble deferring to Joe Johnson but was always ready to hit big shots when called upon. He trailed only Kevin Durant and Damien Lillard in three-pointers made in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime with 16.
The Wizards will attempt to avoid wearing out Pierce during the regular season but he will take plenty of pressure off of Porter as he adjusts to more playing time. Porter should get more action in the early part of the season while Martell Webster recovers from his third back surgery in the past four years. He is willing to accept any role, so long as it’s not uniformed spectator.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and do whatever I can to help my team,” Porter said. “Of course, with Paul Pierce coming, he’s going to be one of our leaders and one of our veteran guys, so I expect to learn a lot from him. He’s definitely going to help us in that aspect, closing out games, knocking down big shots for us, defending guys.”
Porter said learned about professionalism from Ariza last season and was disappointed to see him leave, even though it meant that he finally has a chance to compete for playing time.
“He was one of my veteran guys,” Porter said of Ariza. “To have him gone – he taught me so much, especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, tricks ins and outs. Got to put them to work, put them to use.”
But he also realized that with his limited experience, the Wizards couldn’t rely solely on the hope that Porter is ready with the team seeking to build upon last season’s progress.
“It’s a business. This league is a business. You kind of figured they were going to get somebody,” Porter said, while adding that he is anxious to get some tutelage from Pierce, one of four active players to have scored at least 25,000 points. “I got a lot of questions to ask him, but I can’t until I see him.”