The Wizards have made good on a message they’ve telegraphed for months. Even before Otto Porter hit restricted free agency, Washington made it known that it planned to match any offer sheet for the 24-year-old wing. Brooklyn tested that stance with a four-year, $107 million max offer only to see it matched, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. The Nets will be forced to operate with Porter’s offer on their books until the paperwork (and Porter’s physical) clears, but the process from here on out is a formality.
There was never any reason to believe another outcome might be possible. Washington has come too far with its current core to balk now, even as it swallows hard on one of the most expensive salary totals in the league. The Wizards, with Porter on his new deal, will pay eight figures in luxury tax. They don’t appear to be one of the two best teams in the conference, and possibly not one of the three best. But no team wants to track backward by letting its best young talent slip away. Lose Porter and the Wizards are still over the cap—just materially worse.
Instead, Porter will become the highest-paid Wizard because that was what the market demanded. Porter has improved in each of his seasons as a pro. Development made him the fourth-best three-point shooter in the league last season and gave him the weapons to attack close-outs. It made him a sensible team defender who could cover perimeter scorers and bruising forwards and many of the subtypes in between. Porter has become the sort of player necessary in unlocking a modern style of play: flexible between matchups, reliable in his role, and painful to leave alone in rotation. Teams hoping to compete against the Cavs and the Celtics—much less the Warriors—cannot afford to let those players go.
Good wings are too hard to come by. Pass on paying Porter now, and the Wizards would only resign themselves to a futile search for his replacement. They might find a versatile defender who can’t shoot or a knockdown shooter who can’t match Porter’s height or length. Porter’s best qualities compound his value. What makes him a must to match is that he brings everything the Wizards need in a complementary player in one convenient package. Those players can generally only be had by lucking out in the draft or spending big in free agency. Tracking one down also takes time that Washington would rather not waste. Letting Porter go would be akin to resetting the competitive clock. That might not seem like a problem given how young Wall (26 years old) and Beal (24) still are. Yet from an organizational standpoint, the Wizards would be bailing during a rare swing of upward momentum. Elite or not, the Wizards won 49 games with a young core. If they had anything resembling a useful bench, they might have been a conference finalist.
That kind of success is hard to give up, no matter how far the Wizards might seem from the Cavaliers now. Porter will be expensive; add his new deal on top of Wall’s and Beal’s and Washington will already be committed for more than half of the current salary cap. Should the Wizards agree to an extension with Wall, that proportion will only grow for future seasons. What makes that arrangement painful isn’t what’s owed to those three, but to those beyond them. Washington owes $29.4 million to two imperfect fits at center who cannot play together. That could be a painful arrangement if the Wizards’ attempt at a bench refresh doesn’t quite pan out. Porter, regardless, would hardly be to blame. Washington paid big to retain one of the best things it has going. The only alternative—to see Porter walk for nothing—would have been too costly in its own way.