Whether owner Ted Leonsis wanted to admit it, something had to give for the Washington Wizards.
That was clear before John Wall ruptured his Achilles’ tendon, and it was crystal clear afterward. The Wizards finally yielded to the harsh reality of their health problems and spending sprees Wednesday, trading forward Otto Porter Jr. to the Chicago Bulls for forwards Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker plus a future second-round pick.
The move, which exchanges the $55 million owed to Porter over the next two seasons for a pair of expiring contracts, came less than a week after Leonsis told WTOP that his core trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Porter would remain intact through Thursday’s trade deadline. It also was a day after it was announced that Wall could be sidelined for the entire 2019-20 season. Later Wednesday, the Wizards dumped additional salary by trading forward Markieff Morris to the New Orleans Pelicans for Wesley Johnson, thereby moving below the NBA’s luxury tax threshold.
If the Wizards had been in genuine denial, the Wall news appears to have shaken them out of it. The subsequent U-turn is a promising sign for a franchise that kept hoping for a brighter future without charting a path to get there.
Porter, 25, arrived in Washington as a polished No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013. He exits, six years later, as an enigma. The reliable outside shooter and versatile defender never lived up to his four-year, $106 million extension, often perplexing coaches with his reluctance to shoot. Famously dubbed a “role player” by Wall in 2017, Porter’s uneven offensive play eventually contributed to his removal from the Wizards’ starting lineup in January.
He departs in a salary dump despite once being pegged as a prototypical third option to support Washington’s star guards.
Portis, 23, is a capable backup forward, nothing more, and Parker is an inefficient scorer whose defensive limitations make it hard for him to stay on the court. Both players have had limited impacts on the Bulls, who are languishing near the bottom of the standings.
Parting with Porter, even though he didn’t return a first-round pick, was a no-brainer. The Wizards were going to be on the hook for $92 million for the trio of Wall, Beal and Porter next season, a price so steep that their hands would have been completely tied during this summer’s free agency period. While Washington is guilty of selling low on one of its best players, this is a classic case of “better late than never.”
Returning next season with an injured Wall, a so-so Porter and a stripped-down supporting cast was a surefire formula for making Beal’s life miserable and, perhaps, prompting an offseason trade request. If Porter couldn’t scale his offensive game up in Wall’s absence, then paying him top-dollar was a luxury Washington could no longer afford.
Leonsis has consistently pledged not to tank in recent months, a frustrating stance for fans and observers who could tell this core was heading nowhere fast. Although this trade doesn’t really qualify as a tanking move because of Porter’s negligible impact, it does provide the long-term course correction that many of Leonsis’s critics have sought.
The Wizards now have options. They can take a look at Portis down the stretch and decide whether he’s worth re-signing. They can more comfortably approach negotiation with Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant. They can find more short-term minutes for rookie wing Troy Brown. And come July, they can attempt to refashion their rotation around Beal or they can shop their all-star guard in pursuit of a more intense rebuilding effort.
This trade marks an end of an era that, like Porter himself, fell far short of expectations. Washington’s trio of highly touted lottery picks never won 50 games nor did they reach the conference finals. Porter’s abrupt departure hardly offers closure, but even so, this was a deal that should be commended as proof that the Wizards have broken through their financial, and philosophical, gridlock.
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