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A few days before the Chicago Bulls traded Bobby Portis to the Wizards, he talked to media about how trade chatter is good for the league, brings excitement to the fans, and boosts brand awareness. Little did Portis know that he would soon be one of the topics of conversation as he headed out of United Center, just 30 minutes before the Bulls were set to take on the New Orleans Pelicans.
Two days later, Portis became the first player in NBA history to have 30 points in the last game with his old team and first game with his new team, immediately gaining respect from his new teammates and coaches.
“When I first got here yesterday, I just felt the love right away,” he said after the Wizards beat the Cavaliers, 119-106, on Friday night. “Everybody just welcomed me in and all my coaches and teammates just wanted me to be myself. Obviously, I’m a guy that loves the sport of basketball in a lot of ways. They just told me to be myself … just come in and be who you are. That’s what I showed tonight.”
Only weeks ago, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis adamantly told reporters that he would not “thrown in the towel” on the team’s core. But after news that John Wallwould be out for 12 months with an Achilles injury, the team has reversed course.
Team president Ernie Grunfeld admitted that the Wizards traded away Otto Porter Jr., a member of the franchise’s big three along with Wall and Bradley Beal, in reaction to the news that it would be without Wall for the majority of next season. The trade with the Chicago Bulls brought in Portisand Jabari Parker.
“We had to change our approach because of [Wall’s Achilles’ rupture],” Grunfeld told Fred Katz of The Athletic. “We were expecting John back at the beginning of the year. This will be two, three months longer. And so we did have to change our approach. What we wanted to do, what we wanted to accomplish is we wanted to stay competitive.”
The team wants to stay competitive in a fleeting race for the eighth and final spot because the it still has dreams of collecting ticket sales from at least two home playoff games this spring.
At first glance, the trade appears to be no more than a salary dump for the Wizards, who were staring down an NBA luxury tax bill for the second consecutive season and have been looking to shed some salary in order to save the franchise money.
The Wizards signed Porter to a four-year, $106 million contract in the summer of 2017 and ever since have put themselves in a financial bind, making it difficult to have any roster flexibility and attract the necessary talent to surround the team’s three max contract players. Through two-games, it appears that the Wizards may have not only saved the franchise money, but quite possibly gotten better in the short term. Portis and Parker are both essentially in contract years and have incentive to perform well with the Wizards.
The two have already made an impact on the Wizards by shining in Washington’s two games since the trade. Portis brings a toughness and a level of athleticism that the Wizards have not had in the power forward position since Nenê bullied opponents in the paint. Parker is more of a finesse player who is a natural scorer and a willing passer who can facilitate for others and create for himself. In his Wizards debut, Parker nearly recorded a triple double as he finished with seven points, 11 rebounds, and a career-high nine assists. Parker followed that outing with a masterful performance in his hometown of Chicago in which he threw down six rim-rocking dunks on his way to 20 points.
“We are bringing in two former first round picks who will give us frontcourt depth with their ability to play multiple positions,” Grunfeld said in a team issued statement. “The trade also provides us with an opportunity to continue to develop two promising young players while giving us future flexibility.”
The Wizards have both post-trade deadline games, but more importantly, they have given themselves the flexibility to try and re-tool their roster for the future in an attempt to stay relevant until Wall returns. By offloading Porter’s contract, the Wizards take their projected team salary for 2019-20 from $111 million to $84 million. That $27 million can be used to re-sign the team’s priority free agents, Thomas Bryant and Tomáš Satoranský, while also leaving enough money to potentially sign Portis and Parker to team friendly deals.
It will be up to the Wizards to either take advantage of their newfound financial flexibility or potentially find themselves right back where they started depending on how they allocate their funds next summer. The team is currently paying the payroll of contenders while barely in contention to even make the playoffs.
Washington should be careful not to overpay Portis, who turned down a contract extension from the Bulls before the season and is reportedly seeking $16-$17 million annually, which the Wizards simply cannot afford to give him.
The reset of the Wizards franchise is beginning to take shape and in order to prevent the Porter trade from becoming another half measure, the Wizards must show a patience and discipline that is not often associated with the team during Grunfeld’s tenure.
With Leonsis’ mandate of making the playoff, and veiled threats of not being happy if the team doesn’t reach the postseason, he has turned the hourglass on the Wizards. And unless the new additions can galvanize the group, there will be plenty more changes to come within the organization this offseason.