Upon hearing the unfortunate news that John Wall was going to need season-ending surgery a few days ago, many immediately wrote off the Washington Wizards and went over to the NBA Trade Machine to devise ways of adding Bradley Beal to their team of choice. From at least the perspective of the New Orleans Pelicans, there’s a strong argument to be made that Otto Porter Jr. makes for the more attainable and smarter target.
Beal is no doubt a more valuable player than Porter, and his contract is the only bargain in the room. He made the All-Star team last season and is on pace for another appearance. He can carry a team’s offensive load as he showed when Wall missed 41 games in 2017-18. The Wizards did so well without their All-NBA point guard that there was talk in Washington that perhaps the team was better without him.
Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant for our purposes, but realize this: the Wizards had an all-in strategy before Wall’s injury — as evidenced by the trade for Trevor Ariza — and they’re reportedly not interested in moving Beal. Tearing it all down now and facing a long rebuild makes little sense considering there’s no way they’ll be able to move on from Wall and his supermax contract that kicks in 2019-2020 until he proves himself more than capable on the court again. Thus, either adding to this year’s roster or focusing on the next campaign is the logical route.
Coming off his best season to date, there were high expectations for Otto Porter Jr., but he’s clearly not lived up to them. Head coach Scott Brooks was unhappy with Porter’s production and effort early on the schedule, and many have lamented his current contract ever since it was signed. The Wizards, who are around five million over the tax, would like nothing more than to slide under the tax ceiling while also eliminating excessive future salary from the books. Furthermore, in the event Ariza turns out to be nothing more than a rental, the Wizards have 2018 First Round pick Troy Brown Jr. waiting in the wings at small forward, with Sam Dekker and Devin Robinson also as options.
While spending $27 million on Porter next season is more than a little unappealing, the Pelicans would finally fill their long-standing hole at small forward with an underappreciated two-way player who is in desperate need of a fresh start. Porter finished with the third best Real Plus-Minus at the 3 position last year and he was the Wizards most effective player according to on/off data. Since he can’t blow you away in any heralded category, he’ll never be a star, but his contributions across the entire board would fit incredibly well on this Pelicans team.
For instance, we’ve witnessed how large E’Twaun Moore has lived playing alongside Elfrid Payton, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis. Now imagine replacing that with a player who rebounds and defends noticeably better...who isn’t a glaring disadvantage against other starters in the league at small forward...who isn’t fazed by moments of when the team needs him to step up in the absence of other core players.
During a 27-game stretch where the Wizards were without Wall last season, Porter posted a line of 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 threes and 1.4 steals. Despite the highest usage of his career (20.1%) for a long sustained period, his efficiency was sublime: he shot 51.8% from the field, 45.0% from deep, 84.7% from the free throw line, and averaged only 1.2 turnovers.
In return for sending Porter to the Pelicans, the Wizards would get back Solomon Hill, Julius Randle and some inviting future asset. Would a 2019 second round pick satisfy the front office in Washington? New Orleans currently has the seventh worst record in the league and if this move doesn’t pan out that second rounder (37th overall pick) could look even more appealing. How about two future seconds, with the idea there’s a strong possibility that Davis may not remain on the Pelicans roster past this summer?
Plus, not only are the Wizards reducing significant future salary as well as getting under the tax this year, they would be able to give Randle a hard look. If they like what they see, they should be able to create the cap space to re-sign him as most expect him to turn down the player option on the second year of his contract. Washington is desperate for help on the glass (30th in rebound rate) and with subpar performances out of Markieff Morris while without Dwight Howard — who wasn’t moving the needle in a positive direction much when he was active, the Wizards would immediately be able to slot a 20 and 10 guy at the four or small ball five. Instead of chasing say a post-Achilles injury DeMarcus Cousins down the road, Wall could join forces with another University of Kentucky alum versatile big in Randle, who is still a ways from reaching his prime.
The idea of watching Elfrid Payton push Alvin Gentry’s desired pace, Jrue Holiday being allowed to roam free on offense and exclusively guard the 1 and 2 positions on the other end, Porter go up against the Kawhi’s, Paul George’s and LeBron’s while combining with Nikola Mirotic to make opponents pay dearly from the outside, and Anthony Davis do Anthony Davis things amid better spacing sounds like a really fun group worth putting together soon in hopes of turning the season around — if Dell Demps doesn’t believe he can add another star without entirely mortgaging New Orleans’ future and provided Otto can be had at decent cost.