- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

For teams, trades are often just part of the daily grind. But if you’re a player, getting shipped out of town and coming to a new team is always a big deal.

Bobby Portis, for example, estimated he received 600 to 700 text messages after finding out the Chicago Bulls dealt him to the Washington Wizards last week.

For Wizards forward Jabari Parker, who was acquired along with Portis for Otto Porter, the trade meant he had to grab Harold’s Chicken Shack before leaving his hometown of Chicago.

The chicken, after all, is a staple for any Windy City resident.

“It was actually the first thing on my mind,” Parker said with a smile.

Now, though, with the NBA trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, Portis and Parker have quickly settled in as important pieces for the Wizards. Entering Monday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Washington had won two straight with Portis and Parker coming off the bench.

Each provides something the Wizards have lacked this season.

Portis‘ hustle and effort were on display right away. In Friday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 6-foot-11 forward hit his first six shots en route to finishing with 30 points. The 23-year-old is versatile, and he keeps defenses off guard with his ability to pick-and-pop effectively.

Portis also hauls in rebounds. Against Chicago on Saturday, he grabbed 12 boards in 29 minutes. For the season, Portis is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game — a welcome change for a team that ranks second-to-last in rebounding.

“He’s a great pickup, and that’s an understatement,” coach Scott Brooks said. “A great pickup. … I like how he plays. I like how he plays. He knows how to play. … He plays hard.”

Parker, on the other hand, has demonstrated flashes of being more than just a gifted scorer. More than once against the Cavaliers and Bulls, the 6-foot-10 forward grabbed a rebound and pushed the pace to lead a fastbreak.

In two games, Parker racked up 15 assists — a startling number for a guy whose career average is just 2.1.

This season has been a trying experience for Parker, drafted second overall in 2014. After the Milwaukee Bucks opted to not re-sign him this summer, Parker joined the Bulls in order to revive his career. Yet, that backfired and he fell out of the rotation for an extended stretch.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen repeatedly said he wanted to see Parker practice “harder.” Parker, too, was known for his lack of defensive effort — and he even told reporters in July that they “don’t pay players to play defense.”

Parker said he grew from riding the bench.

“I did everything,” Parker said. “On paper, I was doing my job. And I didn’t let my coach’s words become a distraction to my inner growth.”

Distraction?

“When he told me that I was out of the rotation, I could have went either way,” Parker said. “I could have combat it. I could have argued with him, but instead, I chose to focus on what I could do better. And that’s what I did. Whenever the opportunity was presented, I tried to make the best out of that.”

These next few months are essentially auditions for both Portis and Parker.

Portis will be a restricted free agent after this season, meaning the Wizards will have to decide if they want to pay to keep him around.

The Wizards will also have a decision to make about Parker, who has a team option worth $20 million due this summer. Washington, looking to free up cap space, will almost certainly decline the option, but would they be willing to bring him back at a lower rate?

Until then, the Wizards are still set on trying to make the playoffs.

Both are eager to prove they can help toward that goal.

“I think it will be really fun … to try and make a playoff push,” Portis said, “to be a real force in the East.”

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