Grunfeld shared the love. Otto Porter Sr. had questions. Then came the offer. It wasn’t the figure the Porter contingent was seeking, nor the monetary reward Porter had been rumored to receive since he began showing vast improvement in his fourth season.
Porter later received a coveted max contract offer from two other teams. On Saturday, a week after the midnight conference call, the Wizards are expected to match his offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, which would make him the team’s third player extended on a max contract, joining John Wall and Bradley Beal. The only difference: Unlike with the other two stars, the Wizards waited until the market deemed Porter to be a max player.
Make no mistake, the Wizards always planned to keep Porter. Even when the two sides did not agree to an extension on Porter’s rookie-scale contract before the Oct. 31 deadline, which made him a free agent after the season, Grunfeld still broadcast the team’s desires to sign Porter to a long-term deal when the time came. In 2015, Falk told the Boston Herald in reference to Jared Sullinger that he has “never done a contract extension for a rookie who didn’t make the max since 1996.” So if Falk wanted a max for Porter in October, then that explains why no agreement on an extension was reached.
Still, the Wizards took a measured approach, making decisions that proved they wanted Porter but also holding off until a max contract became inevitable.
Porter’s health, carefully managed since 2014, played a part in this wait-and-see game.
Since coming out of Georgetown as the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Porter has dealt with hip issues. Before the start of his rookie season, Porter strained his right hamstring then his right hip flexor and sat as an inactive player for the first 18 games of the season. Porter appeared in just 37 games, and though that 2013-14 season stands as the only year in which he has missed significant time, the hip continues to be a nagging pain.
When Porter’s back tightened or his hip flared up last season, Coach Scott Brooks placed him on a minutes restriction. Though the restriction did not last throughout the season — and to an extent, Brooks monitored the minutes of all five starters at different times in the season — the same right hip caused Porter to miss at least one November practice. On Jan. 14, he left a game because of the same issue.
By late January, Porter began a routine of riding a stationary bicycle instead of sitting on the bench to keep the hip loose when the second-unit entered the game; he suggested this regimen might continue throughout his career.
While Porter’s hip was a concern, the Wizards did not deem it to be more serious than Beal’s previous stress fractures. In spite of Beal’s injury history, the team did not balk in giving him a five-year, $128 million deal at the start of free agency last year. Once Porter started a career-best 80 games and finished the year as the most efficient scorer in the NBA by certain metrics, he appeared to be less of an investment risk than Beal would have been a year earlier.
By February, the Wizards had prepared for what the market might dictate for Porter.
Before the trade deadline, Washington sent Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton and its 2017 first-round draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough. Although the team withdrew its qualifying offer to Bogdanovic, a free agent who reportedly will sign with the Indiana Pacers, and therefore lost its pick for a rental, the most significant element of the deal was shedding the remainder of Nicholson’s four-year, $26 million contract, which set up the Wizards to afford Porter.
By attracting attention from at least three teams (the Nets, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings), Porter has proved his worth as a max player. Porter may have needed the season to state his case, as well as a generous offer from a rebuilding team, but found the Wizards there at the end, waiting to do what the team had committed to all along.