Otto Porter Jr., whom the Bulls late Wednesday acquired for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, is known back in his speck-on-the-map hometown in Southeast Missouri as Bubba. The Bubba sobriquet is something of a term of endearment in the Southern United States, meant for amiable types who are reliable and true.
The Bulls will take that with a little of the old NFL Bubba Smith defensive play.
“We are excited to add Otto Porter to our team,” Bulls General Manager Gar Forman said in a statement when the team announced the trade. “During his time in the NBA, Otto has proven to be a terrific three-point shooter while also being very efficient. While in his sixth pro season, he is only 25 years old and is someone who will be a good fit for our team moving forward.”
The trade for Porter, long part of the Wizards core with John Wall and Bradley Beal, comes as something of a surprise. Though perhaps it’s also more transparent than it seems as an accelerated forward step for the Bulls nascent rebuilding plan.
The trade of Parker was no surprise after he was dropped from the playing rotation for a time in December. Portis will be a restricted free agent this summer, though the Bulls made him a contract extension offer last fall. And though Portis has been playing well lately after finally returning from severe knee and ankle injuries, he remained primarily a backup power forward.
The Bulls have seven footer Lauri Markkanen as their future power forward. Rookie Wendell Carter Jr., who is out for the rest of the season with a thumb injury, is another long term interior player, a center/forward.
The team’s greatest obvious need is a small forward who fits the modern NBA definition of a player who can make three pointers to spread the floor, defend, run in transition and make some plays off the dribble.
It’s the general description of the play of the 25-year-old Porter.
He isn’t quite Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, but he also isn’t Joe Ingles or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Porter is generally regarded in the top 10 at his position in the NBA, likened to a player like Khris Middleton, who is an All-Star this season.
In a starting lineup with Zach LaVine and Markkanen, the Bulls suddenly have three potential high level offensive threats who can make threes, pass — mostly to teammates — and in Porter a player who can defend the opponent’s best wing player. Which also provides a defensive component to join Kris Dunn’s backcourt defense.
It’s not a complete picture, but it perhaps improves the Bulls’ focus.
“I know he's a really good three and D player,” LaVine said of Porter after the Bulls 125-120 Wednesday loss to New Orleans. “Didn't he lead the NBA in three-point percentage last year (third)? Another dude to come in here and try to help this thing get back to where it's supposed to be. We'll welcome him with open arms.”
The Wizards weren’t exactly anxious to push Porter out the door. But with John Wall now likely out through next season with an Achilles injury, the Wizards probably will remake their team around Beal. Porter is in the second year of a $106 million contact that will pay him $27.3 million next season and $28.5 million in 2020-21 if he picks up the option, which is expected.
It also was an acknowledgement by the Bulls that free agency can come in February.
And that suddenly the best option in free agency was looking more like Jimmy Butler. Yes, been there, done that.
With the trades this week by the Clippers, Knicks and 76ers, the Clippers, Knicks and Nets, all major market teams, would have double the amount of available salary cap space for free agents compared to the Bulls. So coming off a losing season and adding a high draft pick, which generally is anathema to top free agents (see LeBron James trading Andrew Wiggins as soon as he got off the plane in Cleveland), the Bulls likely realized free agency prospects would be unusually competitive in a shrinking field. Which might now feature Butler at small forward with many speculating the 76ers acquisition of Tobias Harris opens the way for them to let go Butler after this season.
Could the Bulls have gotten a top 10 small forward — perhaps their greatest need — in free agency? Was it worth waiting and trying? Especially when they still are in line for one of the top picks in this June’s NBA draft. Plus, they would have to face the market for Portis, who could exhaust much of their their salary cap room by obtaining a substantial free agency offer. And with so many teams with salary cap room for free agents and so few impact players, perhaps it would have been a bidding war for Portis. Worth it? After all, he is projected as a reserve. A terrific one, for sure. But there were openings in the starting lineup. And Chandler Hutchison is far from ready.
Plus, it became clear Parker could not be that glue-guy small forward the team desired.
It also seems like the Bulls are done with this lottery thing. They probably wanted to be this season, as well, but losing Markkanen, Portis, Dunn and Denzel Valentine for two months each to start the season ended any pose of competitiveness. I suspect the Bulls didn’t want to keep adding teenagers and 20-year-olds, though they should get another this June. And even if it is a top 1 or 2 pick, you need veterans to compete. LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn are getting there, and it’s time.
Of course, Porter isn’t exactly going to many All-Star games lately. Unless he pays, of course.
You may have recognized him as the 6-8 guy standing in the right corner at a Wizards games while John Wall dribbled for 19 seconds.
The Wizards believed Porter could do more, which is why they matched the Nets contract for him when he was a restricted free agent. But then Porter got sentenced mostly to watch John dribble and catch and shoot threes.
Porter was regarded coming out of Georgetown as a player who could do more, a long armed 6-8 who could run the floor and pass the ball. With Wall’s injuries, he’s been freed up somewhat this season from his corner prison. Though the Wizards have been a mess with Wall’s injuries, internal discord, a revolving roster and still having Dwight Howard. The Wizards Wednesday also traded Markieff Morris in an unusually lively trading week that also has included the likes of Harrison Barnes, Stanley Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Tyler Johnson, Tobias Harris, Reggie Bullock, Rodney Hood, Kristaps Porzingis and Dennis Smith Jr. changing jerseys.
Porter is averaging just 12.6 points per game this season in the Wizards wonderland, though splitting time in the starting lineup and bench with Jeff Green amidst their dysfunction. Many cities have faced it this season. But Porter, who has been healthy throughout his career, averaged 14.7 points and 44 percent on threes last season as a third option to Wall and Beal with prime defensive responsibilities. He shot more than 50 percent overall the previous two seasons.
And though the Bulls won’t have substantial cap space this summer for maximum salaries, they still could have room to add veteran free agents.
Which, historically, is how a team is built.
Porter may know something about that.
He’s been in Washington, D.C. for a long time, but his heart is in the backwoods of the deep South, his tri-cities area where he was raised about halfway between St. Louis and Memphis. The three are Morley, Haywood City and Vanduser. There are more people in most Chicago high-rises than the three combined. Porter was president of the history club in high school and ranked second in his graduating class. Which had only 32. Still, second.
He’s from a basketball family that only was noticed around there, both his father and mother playing for state title teams along with brothers, sisters and cousins. Young Otto was just fine playing with the cousins. He didn’t play AAU ball, a rarity for top talent, though his dad always said they’d find you if you could play. Even if he mostly was playing on hardscrabble outdoor courts with family by grandma’s house. Despite playing in the small school 1A class, they did find him.
Now the Bulls hope they’ve discovered a special addition.