Otto Porter Jr. showed up for his big reveal as the Washington Wizards’ highest-paid player looking bespoke in a gray plaid suit. He accented the ensemble with a plum necktie and — when it came time to pose for photos alongside majority team owner Ted Leonsis, President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Scott Brooks — a $106 million dollar smile.
Though Porter looked the part, the money hasn’t quite changed him, as he says he has prioritized giving money back to his Sikeston, Mo. high school, church and of course, his mom.
The Wizards are also hoping the money doesn’t change Porter’s game.
“He’s not about stats,” Brooks said. “He can score more and I get that and I appreciate it, but he’s willing to sacrifice his own game for the betterment of the team.”
During the Wizards’ news conference for Porter on Wednesday morning, the prevailing themes focused on continuity and fit. Washington matched the four-year, $106 million maximum contract offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets so that Porter, a restricted free agent, could remain within the core that includes John Wall and Bradley Beal. Also, there’s an organizational belief that Porter’s selfless attributes as the third player in the Wizards’ hierarchy allow the team to thrive and continue its ascent in the Eastern Conference.
Even so, Porter’s price tag will naturally shift him from the shadows and into the forefront of scrutiny. Porter will earn roughly $24.7 million next season, more than his higher-scoring teammates in Wall and Beal, and understands this role comes with more obligations.
“The work is just now starting,” Porter said. “Taking on that responsibility definitely comes with it, but at the same time, you have great people around you that have confidence in you.”
Still, within Verizon Center, team brass would prefer if Porter remains the same player who averaged 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in a career 2016-17 season.
“I don’t think Otto will change,” Leonsis said. “I think he’ll improve his game, but we don’t want Otto to have more on his shoulders, nor any of our players, that they’re a max player. We want a max team and it would be bad for us if the optics were ‘you have to earn your contract.’
“We’re thrilled to be able to bring him back,” Leonsis continued, “and now what we want is no more talks of contracts and dollars, it should be about wins.”
Almost a year ago, Leonsis had set very different expectations on his other max-contract player. Last July, when Beal discussed his five-year, $128 million deal during a news conference, Leonsis referenced a variation of a bible verse: “to much is given, much is expected.” However on Wednesday, as Leonsis responded to a question posed to Porter on his thoughts of what a max-contract player should be, he tried to shield Porter from future criticism.
“There’s one basketball and there’s a pecking order and John has the ball, and Bradley can make his own shot, and why we think this works is Otto fits. [Porter] doesn’t need the ball and we like his game the way it is,” Leonsis said. “The organization knows Otto and we know he’s at his best and most contributing to the team when he’s himself, right? When you get pressure on yourself to earn the max contract — no, you’ve already earned it! You earned the max deal by being yourself. You don’t have to be anything different. You just have to keep working to take that next step.”
By re-signing Porter, who was selected third overall in the 2013 NBA draft and has progressed through his four years in Washington, the Wizards feel as if they have improved this offseason by simply keeping their team in tact. Five of the top six players, including Kelly Oubre Jr., are 27 years old and younger. Also, if Wall, Beal and Porter are considered to be the Wizards’ big three, then the team can take solace in how this core has already played through three postseasons together.
“We can only go up from here,” Porter said. “There’s no going backwards.”
Before the news conference, Porter held a basketball clinic for Dreams For Kids DC and Special Olympians from McKinley Middle School. Porter had 30 minutes to impart wisdom, not enough time to teach all the intricacies of his game that Grunfeld later described as “dirty work” — the same tertiary position the team needs him to be in next season.
“I never look at Otto and judge him by the stat sheet,” Brooks said. “There’s so many little things that stats don’t show. He dives on the floor for a loose ball, he sets screens, he makes the extra pass to the corner, offensive rebounds. But most importantly, he’s just a great guy to be around.
“He’s a max person in my mind, and I love to coach guys that I can cheer for.”