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The pros and cons of different approaches the Wizards can use with Otto Porter’s free agency

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Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards - Game Three Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

After a year of hot takes about Otto Porter’s value as a player, his long-term fit with the Wizards, and how Washington should try to take the next step as a team, we’ll finally get some resolution on his future in the coming days.

As a restricted free agent, the Wizards have four different ways to approach Porter’s free agency and they all come with different advantages and disadvantages. Let’s consider each of the options.

Option 1: Let him walk

Pros

  • The Wizards avoid Porter being the team’s highest paid player.
  • If Washington wanted to get in the market for Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins next summer, keeping his contract off the books would make it easier to clear the space they need to offer a big deal. It still wouldn’t be easy, (good luck unloading Ian Mahinmi!), but it would be easier.

Cons

  • Washington would have very limited means to replace Porter, since they would still be over the cap. Their only options would be bringing back Bojan Bogdanovic (who would have more leverage in negotiations with the Wizards if Porter leaves), or using their cap exceptions.
  • Letting a starter walk for nothing after Washington’s best season in decades doesn’t send a great message to fans.
  • Letting a starter walk for nothing after Washington’s best season in decades doesn’t send a great message to John Wall, unless he’s really sold on the idea he can recruit Paul George next summer.

Option 2: Pursue a sign-and-trade

Pros

  • The Wizards avoid Porter being the team’s highest paid player.
  • Washington can get something back in return for letting Porter walk, whether it’s draft compensation, a player who can help right away, or maybe even a little cap relief to help go after George or Cousins next summer. It’s better than losing Porter for nothing.

Cons

  • Sign and trades don’t happen very often because there are so many moving parts that have to fall into place. First, Otto would have to agree to the sign and trade deal rather than just sign an offer sheet with another team. Then, Washington and the other team would have to agree to a deal that makes sense for both sides. And that part is especially tricky because teams would be using Porter’s base year compensation (50 percent of the salary in the first year of his deal) when calculating salaries in a trade.
  • Unless you can pull back someone like Paul George or DeAndre Jordan in a deal, Washington is probably going to be worse off in the short-term, which hurts the optics with fans and possibly with John Wall.
  • Depending on the sign-and-trade deal, Bogdanovic could have more leverage with Washington since the team would still likely be over the cap with limited options to replace Porter at the 3 spot.

Option 3: Let the market decide his value

Pros

  • As a restricted free agent, Washington has the right to match any offer sheet Porter signs in free agency. That gives them the freedom to avoid bidding against themselves. They don’t have to pay a cent more than whatever the highest bidder is willing to pay for his services.
  • When a team signs Porter to an offer sheet, they can’t use the cap space they commit to him in the offer sheet for two days. In that time, other free agent targets could get locked up and they still may not get Porter if Washington decides to match. That fear could cool his market and lower the amount teams are willing to commit in an offer sheet. If Washington plays it right, they could get Porter for less than some expected and preserve some flexibility for down the road.

Cons

  • It only takes one team to sign Porter to a four year, $106 million max offer sheet starting a $24.75 million in the first season. If he signs it and Washington matches, Porter instantly becomes Washington’s highest paid player, and they push into the luxury tax before they make any other moves to address the team’s bench.
  • There’s a chance Porter regresses. In that case, Washington is stuck with a bad contract. He’s also dealt with hip issues throughout his career. If those were to change from a “nagging issue” to “major issues that requires surgery” Washington could be stuck with an even worse deal.
  • Porter could feel lowballed by Washington’s tactics. It might seem like a small matter, but feeling disrespected can have a very real effect on performance.
  • If the market is weak, he could just opt to sign his qualifying offer. That would make Porter an unrestricted free agent next summer in a very weak free agent class. If he has another strong year, he could cost even more to Washington next summer, or he could just leave and join another team. That might sound like a crazy risk, but David Falk (Porter’s agent) pulled a similar move with Greg Monroe when he hit restricted free agency with Detroit. Monroe wound up scoring a big deal with the Bucks the following summer. There’s a LOT more money on the line in the new cap environment, which would make this a much bigger risk, but it is an option for Porter.

Option 4: Make a proactive offer

This one takes a little bit of explaining. Because Washington can offer a fifth year in contract negotiations (something no other team can offer, even in a sign-and-trade) they could leverage that extra year to offer Porter more guaranteed money while lowering his year-to-year cost.

For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll go with the five year, $127.6 million proposal used in the Dunc’d On Podcast Mock Offseason. It essentially splits the difference between what he could get signing a four-year max on another team, and a five-year max Washington. Otto gets more guaranteed money than anyone else can offer, and Washington gets Porter for less per year than on a four-year max offer sheet.

Pros:

  • It shaves nearly $3 million per year off the Wizards’ payroll compared to what Washington would pay if they matched a max offer sheet. That means lower luxury tax payments and more wiggle room in the future.
  • Porter’s salary would come in at just a hair under Bradley Beal’s, which keeps him from being stuck with the “Wizards Highest Paid Player” designation.

Cons:

  • Otto might prefer the four-year max and the potential to get back on the market sooner. If so, the Wizards are out of luck.
  • Washington could be misreading the market and paying far more than anyone else would have offered on an offer sheet.
  • As mentioned before: The potential Otto’s contract becomes a millstone if he doesn’t improve or gets hurt.
  • Otto could just refuse a compromise and opt to either sign an offer sheet elsewhere, or bet on himself, take his qualifying offer, and hit unrestricted free agency next summer.

So what will actually happen? Based on early indications from David Aldridge, it looks like Otto Porter’s camp wants to get something done quickly.

As Aldridge noted, the Wizards moved quickly with Beal and generally move quickly to get deals done in free agency. Given that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Wizards take Option 4. It’s the safest route and helps makes it easier for the team to navigate around the luxury tax. It seems like the most Wizards move.

That said, there is a good case for trying to play the market and seeing what Porter is worth to other teams. There are fewer teams with max cap space this summer, and they may be more hesitant to make an offer on Porter given Washington’s situation and how many teams tried and failed to pry away restricted free agents last season. Plus, no one can sign Porter to an offer sheet until after the moratorium ends on July 6, so Washington will have some time to see how the market shakes out before they have to start talking turkey.

Maybe someone will miss out on a big target and pivot to Otto as their Plan B max player and it’s a moot point, but NBA free agency can have unexpected twists and turns. It wouldn’t hurt the Wizards to at least see how some of the dominoes fall in free agency before they make their move.