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Assessing the Wizards’ options with Otto Porter’s upcoming free agency

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Last season, the Wizards had a down roster, a lot of injuries, a bit of cap room, and a not very good playing Otto Porter. Then during the offseason it all changed thanks to the arrival of…

Television money.

It changed the whole league this summer. After calculating the Basketball Related Income (BRI) for the league, it was determined each team had gained $24 million in cap space. That’s right, every team had that much more money to spend on players, and it led to pay increases for free agents across the league.

The Wizards were no different. Last summer, this gave them the benefit of having upwards of $33 million in cap space, which they used to obtain a variety of players instead of spending it all on one star. What the Wizards did not do, however, was save any of their future money. Due to their spending last summer, the Wizards likely won’t have any cap room for at least two summers, barring a trade. Many were wondering before this season, if the current group doesn’t work out, how can these guys get better?

Thankfully, the Wizards found their answer with Otto Porter. The 23 year old finally took the leap into being a contributor for the Wizards and is consistently doing it for the first time in his career. He’s averaging 13/6/2 per 36 minutes and as Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight noted, there’s a strong correlation between his success and the team’s success. So the Wizards have a solid roster and a young player who is growing – what’s the problem?

Otto is a free agent at the end of the season, that’s the problem. On the bright side for the Wizards, he’s a restricted free agent, so if the Wizards want to keep him, they theoretically can no matter what. But Otto is going to get expensive to keep. Will he be worth it to keep around? Or is it worth it for Grunfeld to look into potentially trading him? Exploring all of the Wizards – and Otto’s – options for the upcoming summer could give us a better look at what might happen

Option 1: Lock up Porter before he can explore his options

This seems obvious for the Wizards, right? His improvement is one of the reasons the Wizards appear to be playoff bound this year, so just re-sign the guy! The Wizards can offer Otto a 5th year on his contract, something no other team can do.

But let’s pump the brakes here. Remember the whole Wizards having no cap space thing? That complicates re-singing Otto. If they do re-sign Otto, even to a reasonable, say, $15 million a year deal, that puts the Wizards at $115 million in salaries. The Vertical estimates the tax threshold next season to be $123 million. So the Wizards will be approaching the tax threshold if they re-sign Otto. Oh, and they will only have 10 guaranteed players (11 if you count a draft pick).

So let’s play devil’s advocate. Otto has reached his potential this season. The Wizards hope he keeps improving, so they ink him to this reasonable contract. Then he doesn’t get any better and the Wiz are stuck with a middle of the East roster and a large salary bill, and with little path to improve. Is that an outcome Grunfeld would risk happening? If it happens, it could cost him his job.

So maybe re-signing him isn’t a no brainer. Let’s explore other options.

Option 2: Trade Otto right now

This seems almost ludicrous, doesn’t it? The Wizards are clicking, the roster finally seems to have chemistry, and Otto is improving faster than almost anyone in the league.

And maybe that’s why he is tradeable. His value goes up by the day and he plays the most demanded position in the league. He’s young with room to improve and offers defense on the wings that a lot of teams would offer for. Given all this, Otto has the value to potentially bring something else to the Wizards.

Granted it is doubtful the Wizards would do this, if the offer is great enough it may be worth it for the Wizards to do. The hardest part would be finding an equal return for Otto. The most salary the Wizards could obtain in a trade where Otto is the only thing the Wizards trade away is $7,467,476.25. There aren’t very many players who could help the Wizards right now who make that much or less. Essentially, the only thing you would trade Otto for is picks, and maybe if the pick is good enough the Wizards pull the trigger.

It also should be noted that the pick the Wizards would be receiving in this trade would have to be excellent for more than one reason. Beyond just being equal value to Otto, trading Otto for a pick would suggest the Wizards would be giving up on the current season. With the Wizards in “make the playoffs now” mode, it is extremely unlikely that they make a rebuilding move at this time.

Even with all this in mind, it is unlikely that someone offers a high first round pick for Otto Porter. So maybe there’s something else the Wizards could do.

Option 3: Let the market decide Otto’s value

This is extremely unlikely. The Wizards probably want to avoid letting another team decide how much Porter should be paid next season. But it may be beyond the Wizards control.

Otto will be a restricted free agent, and it has been reported that the Nets have interest in offering Otto Porter Jr. max deal this summer. Otto’s max salary next year would be roughly $25.5 million. If the Nets offer Otto a four year, $105 million deal for Otto, he would almost certainly sign it, which would force the Wizards to either match that deal or let him walk for nothing. If the Wizards do match, it would put them less than a minimum contract away from paying the luxury tax penalty. Odds are, the Wizards don’t want to be in that situation, especially if it means potentially overpaying a player.

Having options is always nice in free agency, even if it is a high stakes decision such as this one. Maybe Grunfeld wants to see what other teams think Otto is worth before deciding to re-sign him. If Porter doesn’t get the max from another team, it’s easier to match the deal and keeps the team from bidding against itself.

The Wizards probably don’t want to offer Otto the max, but it may be out of their control. Otto will almost certainly seek out the largest contract he can, so this situation is a real possibility. The Wizards will likely try to avoid this situation, but if it happens it happens. Let’s explore one final option that could happen.

Option 4: Sign and trade him this summer

This one could be a little more interesting to think about. It is tough to read Otto’s value around the league. Is he playing well in the Wizards system, or is he playing well because he is a good player? Teams are wondering that, and certainly there are teams on both ends of the spectrum.

Maybe one of those teams that thinks Otto is a good player wants him but can’t afford him. That’s where this option could realistically come into play. The Wizards, as mentioned before, have Otto’s Bird Rights. This means they can go over the cap to sign him - essentially they can offer him any amount of money they want. Or in this case, they can offer him how much another team wants to pay him. A team that can’t afford to sign him, but has the right assets to move that would allow them to trade for Otto on his new salary.

This would also open a world of options for the Wizards. If Otto signs for $15 million, the Wizards could receive up to $18.8 million in salary back from another team. Only 30 players in the NBA make more than that, so it opens up the possibility for the Wizards to receive a wide variety of players (or groups of players) or even picks in return. It sure beats just letting Porter walk in free agency.

This potentially opens up more options for Porter as well. If there’s a team that wants him and can’t afford him, he could seek this option. It could allow Otto to get the contract he wants and likely put him in a better situation than where he’d end up if he just signed a deal with someone that had cap space like Brooklyn.

Frankly, it is impossible to predict how savvy it would be to make this move without first knowing what the Wizards could possibly receive for Otto. It’s fun to speculate, but it’s unlikely someone makes an offer big enough to make the Wizards want to consider this move.

So - What do the Wizards do?

The Wizards will probably be looking to go with Option 1 here. The best case scenario for the Wizards is that they can come to an agreement with Otto before he comes to an agreement with any other teams, as then they could structure the contract the way they wanted. Otto currently is 75th in the league in PER (according to Basketball-Reference). The league’s 75th highest paid player? Arron Afflalo at $12 million. Otto is certainly worth more than that per year, but it is worth noting. Maybe the wizards can convince Otto to sign for that much in order to make the team better.

It’s also worth noting that if Otto leaves, the Wizards only have, at most, $5 million of cap space to replace him. Is paying Otto over $20 million worse than having a player who is significantly worse replace him on the cheap? That is up for Grunfeld to decide.