LAS VEGAS – Normally, Otto Porter‘s performance in his summer league debut Saturday would have been ripe for superlatives: 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 28 minutes, seven rebounds and three assists.
Given its timing, however, and the situation in which his Washington Wizards team suddenly found itself, a request was more in order:
Come to think of it, the Wizards might be inclined to drop the “please” and go with a straight demand.
Porter is due and, with the loss of forward Trevor Ariza as a free agent to the Houston Rockets – effectively and finally, during the very hours Porter was on the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon – Washington needs him. Now.
“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said. “He [Ariza] had a tremendous year last year. Now guys are moving on and stuff, it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.
“This is just the beginning of it … But I’m definitely feel I’m gonna build on today’s game.”
Losing Ariza hits the Wizards hard for a couple of reasons. First, according to multiple reports, the four-year, $32 million deal he signed with Houston is no better, on an annual basis, than what Washington had been offering. Turns out, Texas’ absence of a state income tax was a selling point worth a couple of million dollars, net, in Ariza’s pocket.
The 10-year-veteran also had probably the best season of his career. Ariza, 29, averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He was a defensive wet blanket when thrown on the opponents’ most dangerous wing scorers. And he provided some helpful leadership for the team’s young talent, from backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal to Porter.
That’s why the Wizards had made re-signing Ariza, along with center Marcin Gortat (who did re-up), such a priority. It wanted to keep intact the core and maintain the momentum of the budding East contender that pushed Indiana to six games in the conference finals.
“We’ll be all right,” coach Randy Wittman said, unconvincingly, on his way out of the arena, with the news of Ariza’s exit still washing over the Wiz.
The move hurts even more because Martell Webster, a backup last year, is sidelined for three to six months after back surgery. And the Wizards’ options to add a replacement is limited both by the salary cap (no Luol Deng, for instance) and the shrinking list of available fill-ins.
Even with one Washington media outlet suggesting that this all might set up the Wizards financially for a run at D.C.-born Kevin Durant when he becomes free agent in 2016, that’s two seasons away with zero guarantees.
That Ariza will be missed as a solid teammate and even mentor is just a, er, bonus.
“To have him gone, he taught me so much,” Porter said, “especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, the ins and outs. Now I’ve got to put ‘em to use.”
Ya think? Porter had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons of anyone drafted so high – the No. 3 pick overall – in recent NBA memory. He appeared in only 37 games, averaging 2.1 points in 8.6 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent.
His problems began almost immediately with a thigh strain that curtailed his summer league work, followed by a hip injury that messed up his training camp and kept him inactive till December. Porter was drafted after two years at Georgetown – with multiple scouts claiming he was a perfect fit and ready to help – with the idea he would replace Ariza.
Well, now is his chance. More, please.