- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The question of whether Otto Porter was “worthy” of a max contract was irrelevant. From the beginning of Porter’s restricted free agency, Porter’s agent David Falk knew there were NBA teams waiting to offer his client the max.

He communicated as such to the Wizards, who matched a four-year, $106 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets.

But what the Wizards don’t want Porter to do now is feel like he has to become someone he’s not. Porter’s role of being a 3-and-D forward will remain as such, despite being the highest-paid player on the Wizards.

“We want a max team and it would be bad for us if the optics were ‘you have to earn your contract,’” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said. “The market spoke. It’s fair and how the system works. We’re thrilled to bring him back. And now what we want is no more talk of contracts and dollars. It should be about wins.”

During a press conference Wednesday, Porter and the Wizards stressed continuity as key to the team’s success and hammered home the message that the franchise is building with youth. Porter and Bradley Beal are just 24. Even John Wall is only 26.

The Wizards are banking on growing with their core.

“They now have to set their expectations higher,” Leonsis said. “We want to build a team that can go further in the playoffs than we did last year. That certainly has to be our goal. We have to be looking at 50-win seasons. We have to be in the conversation about being a destination and a team that other players want to play for.”

The idea of Washington emerging as an NBA destination becomes trickier considering the team is capped out for the foreseeable future. The team will pay an estimated $10.65 million in penalties next season for being over the luxury tax threshold, something Leonsis has never had to do.

But before becoming a destination, Washington may have to repair the dranchise’s image. When Kevin Durant was a free agent last summer, he didn’t even meet with his hometown team. Washington was coming off a 41-41 season and had missed the playoffs after realigning its cap space just to make a run at Durant. The pursuit failed.

This summer, Wall openly campaigned for Paul George to join the Wizards. George, still with the Indiana Pacers at the time, would have needed to verbally express his desires to be traded to Washington, but that didn’t happen. The Wizards also didn’t have the assets to make a trade for George enticing enough for Indiana.

Wall’s point circled back to the idea that NBA teams need three stars to be successful. Acquiring George might have meant moving on from Porter.

Porter, to his credit, didn’t take it personally.

“We’re talking about Paul George here,” Porter said. “If we can get him on our squad, we can definitely contend for a championship. But it’s just motivation. … I’m just going to continue to work and come out here.”

Porter said Washington is where he always wanted to be. He has been rooted in the area since his freshman year at Georgetown in 2011 and each year he’s improved his game. Porter is coming off a career year in which he shot 43.4 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Porter said he wanted to get stronger and improve his ball-handling. He will never need to be a primary option with Wall on the roster, but if it means he can box out and push the ball in transition, it could help the Wizards’ offense even further.

“The work is just now starting,” Porter said.

Regarding the offer sheet itself, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said there were no surprises. The contract has a player option for the fourth season and a 15 percent trade-kicker. It also contains an unusual provision of 50 percent of Porter’s yearly salary being paid upfront each year, the maximum amount allowed by the collective bargaining agreement.

Grunfeld said the Wizards feel like they can get better. Leonsis also made the point that top teams around the league will get older, allowing the Wizards to make another jump at some point.

“These are very young players we’re talking about,” Grunfeld said. “Most players don’t reach their primes until 28 or 29. Our players are far from that. But again, they have been battle-tested. They’ve been in playoff situations and felt the intensity of a playoff game. They’ve been under the bright lights. Those things can only help you moving forward.”

Leonsis stressed there was no drama in Porter’s negotiations. He referenced going through similar drama-free processes when locking up Beal and Wall, hoping to put the talk of contracts behind him.

If it were only that easy.

The Wizards are already discussing a contract extension with Wall and his long-term future in Washington will always be a topic of conversation, especially factoring in his talent. NBA superstars like Wall increasingly aren’t afraid to move on if they feel like their team’s direction is limited.

Washington has reportedly offered Wall the “supermax extension” — a four-year, $170 million contract — which would keep him in Washington through 2022-23. Wall qualified for the designation because he made an All-NBA team last season. Rockets star James Harden accepted a similar deal July 8 to stay in Houston.

Wall, however, has yet to accept the deal, though still has two years remaining on his contract. The spotlight will be on Washington until he does.

“My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension,” Leonsis said. “He wants to be here. And my goal is to have no drama. [The media is] in the entertainment business. You need narrative and drama. I’m not in the entertainment business. I just want to win some games.”

Wall and the Wizards have until the beginning of the season in October to reach a deal. If they don’t, the Wizards can always offer the same deal next offseason as long as Wall earns a spot on an All-NBA team again.

“There’s no urgency to it,” Grunfeld said. “Obviously, we’d like to have John finish his career here.”

But with Porter’s re-signing, Leonsis has committed to spend. The team has a payroll for next season north of $125 million, $6 million over the luxury tax, which is new territory for Leonsis.

“Most of the teams that have been in the tax, their general manager has been LeBron James,” Leonsis said. “Miami, it was Cleveland. But the biggest taxpayer is Brooklyn. That really helped them, huh? I’ve never been fearful of paying the tax. … Unless you have the right people, just throwing money at a problem doesn’t get you results.

“This was the case that yeah, you had to be in the tax, but you were keeping your team together. It was a worthwhile thing to do.”

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