MILWAUKEE — The first dominoes have fallen in the wake of the news of John Wall’s extended absence: The Wizards are breaking up what many believed to be their core for years to come, trading Otto Porter Jr. Wednesday night to the Chicago Bulls for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis.
A few hours after Porter was dealt, the team sent injured forward Markieff Morris and a 2023 second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Wesley Johnson.
Porter, a 6-foot-8 forward, was set to play in the Wizards’ game here against the Milwaukee Bucks when he received word of the deal. Players were shocked when Coach Scott Brooks broke the news to the locker room, announcing that team president Ernie Grunfeld had requested Porter to be removed from the starting lineup due to a pending trade. After taking off his blue Wizards’ No. 22 jersey for the final time, Porter said his goodbyes and left Fiserv Forum minutes before tip-off. The Wizards who remained in the arena endured a long night, getting hammered, 148-129, by the Bucks.
“We found out and we got to play 20 minutes later. So it’s tough,” Wizards guard Jordan McRae said. “We all love Otto. Just to see him go right before the game, everybody wish it didn’t happen that way but it’s a business and we had a game to play. So we had to try and move on quick.”
Although Bradley Beal, the last remaining active member of the Wizards’ core three, made history by becoming the youngest player in league history to reach 1,000 three-pointers, the trade of Porter overshadowed the achievement just a day before the NBA trade deadline.
“It was a little weird but you got to be a professional about everything,” Beal said. “Decisions are made. People come and go. It’s unfortunate. Otto’s a part of the franchise for a long time.”
In 2013, the Wizards selected Porter with the No. 3 overall pick, and then signed him to a four-year, $106.5 million contract extension in the summer of 2017. In his sixth season out of Georgetown, Porter, 25, was considered to be the third building block to the Wizards’ future alongside Wall and Beal. The max contract solidified Porter’s position in the organizational hierarchy but also brought a steady stream of criticism over his style of play and inability to stay healthy.
Porter has a history of hip pain, which caused him to miss the beginning of his rookie season. Still, he thrived on a game predicated on sprints down the floor and cuts to the basket as well as catch-and-shoot looks. Over time, Porter developed a consistent jumper and last season he ranked third in the NBA in three-point percentage (. 441). However, when the Wizards advanced to the playoffs last season, Porter missed the conclusion of the first-round series against the Toronto Raptors because he required minor surgery to relieve a buildup of blood around a contusion on his left leg.
This season, Porter dealt with more ailments and required a 10-game absence to heal from a quadriceps strain. When he returned in early-January, Porter played off the bench — a move made partly to allow him to work with the second unit and be more of the offensive centerpiece. Over the past two years, teammates and even Brooks have publicly implored Porter to be more aggressive on offense and shoot more.
Porter played a complementary role in the Wizards’ core trio, a low-maintenance personality who wouldn’t complain about shots nor cause friction by demanding the ball. Just last week, majority owner Ted Leonsis declared the team was “not trading” its big three.
Morris, who came to Washington at the 2016 NBA trade deadline, once played a key role in the Wizards’ formidable starting five. Giving the Wizards a rugged persona, Morris played the power forward position and coined the term “Deathrow D.C.” during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2017. A season before he is due to hit free agency, Morris has been demoted to the second unit. He has not played since Dec. 26 due to neck and upper back soreness.
The moves signal the Wizards’ plans to cut salary and reshape their identity following the news that Wall could miss all of next season after rupturing his left Achilles’ heel in a fall at his home. With Porter’s $26 million and Morris’s $8.6 million for the 2018-19 season coming off the books, the Wizards (22-32) are now under the luxury tax threshold.
Parker, a former No. 2 overall pick out of Duke in 2014, is a 6-8 forward in the first season of a two-year, $40 million contract. However, the deal includes a team option for next season, allowing the Wizards some time to make a decision on whether they want to keep him. A 6-8 forward, Parker comes to Washington with comparable numbers to Porter — 14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Portis, a 6-11 forward known for his passion and motor, is averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. The Wizards will have another decision to make with Portis since he will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Johnson, 31, has played in 26 games for the Pelicans this season while posting 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in those appearances.
While the Wizards have received capable, young players in return for Porter, his trade continues a season-long trend of aggressive moves to curb salary: the Wizards have kept a rotating 10-day signee on roster instead of adding a free agent in the open roster spot for the remainder of the season and have already traded Jodie Meeks, Jason Smith as well as homegrown forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who would have been a free agent in the summer. However, the Porter deal comes as the most definitive statement of the financial direction moving forward as Wall’s “supermax” contract hits next season.
Wall, who was already out for the season after surgery on his left heel to remove bone spurs, further clouded his future with the fall at his residence Jan. 29. The fall caused Wall to sustain an “unusual” rupture of his Achilles’ tendon, so described by the team’s director of medical services, Wiemi Douoguih. Wall now awaits surgery — his second of the year and his fifth major procedure since 2016.
“We had a rough 72 hours,” McRae said.
“It’s been a heck of a week, I’ll tell you that,” center Thomas Bryant said. “Just dealing with injuries and guys being traded, guys getting injured but we’ve just got to stick together.”
Between trades, Beal finished with 30 points in the losing effort to the Bucks while Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo crushed the Wizards for 43 points. The Bucks dropped 50 in the first quarter and never looked back against a shellshocked and limited opponent.