Bulls hope for better return on investment from Porter
• Fourth in a series
These two statements are not mutually exclusive:
• When he plays well, Otto Porter makes the Bulls a fairly competitive team.
• Trading for Porter was one of the worst ideas the Bulls ever had.
The story is told not by scoring average or field-goal percentage, but playing percentage. Since he arrived in a trade from Washington on Feb. 6, 2019, the Bulls have played 93 games and Porter has participated in 29 of those. He played well in maybe 15.
So when it comes to return on investment, Porter has been a disaster. He was the Bulls' highest-paid player this season at $27.2 million and has a player option worth $28.5 million for next season. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Porter would decline that option and become a free agent while the NBA salary cap is shrinking.
Porter's old team, the Washington Wizards, showed how much they valued him by letting both players acquired from the Bulls in the trade -- Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis -- walk away as free agents last summer.
Porter was the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013. After a slow start in the NBA, he eventually posted decent numbers, averaging 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 2017-18 for the Wizards.
But he was always an inconsistent third option, who might have grown used to deferring to guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. When Wall went down with an injury last season, Porter's numbers didn't increase.
The Bulls thought Porter was the veteran upgrade they could use at small forward and in the 15 games he played last season, he did average 17.5 points while shooting 49 percent from 3-point range.
But besides missing 41 games with a foot injury this season, Porter delivered some confounding performances at the start of the season when he was playing. He had 9 points and 2 rebounds on opening night at Charlotte; 4 points and 3 boards in Game 2 at Memphis.
He picked it up a little before the injury, but looked nothing like he did during the promising 10-game stretch after the trade. Overall this season, he was strangely averse to rebounding (3.4 per game) and his 3-point percentage dipped to 39 percent.
At the same time, though, he does rank first among Bulls regulars in plus-minus and is second in net rating behind Shaq Harrison. So Porter did some positive things on the court, although this season offers a small sample size.
The lesson for the Bulls seems obvious: Taking a chance that a former high draft pick has more in the tank is fine. But not when that guy has one of the worst contracts in the league. Assuming Porter exercises his option for next year, they'll have no cap space to make much-needed improvements this summer.
Without Porter's foot injury, would the Bulls be in the process of interviewing new management candidates? The Porter trade might have been the fatal move of the Gar-Pax era.
The Bulls put too many eggs in the basket of a player who had been a disappointment in the NBA. So there's no point in chalking up his foot injury to bad luck. In this instance, the Bulls created their own bad luck.
So assuming Porter does return next season and his contract is untradeable, what then? For starters, the Bulls can't count on Porter and Chandler Hutchison to fill the small forward position, since both players have missed so much time with injuries. The Bulls need another option at small forward badly.
Another issue is the defensive quality of a Bulls lineup with Porter, Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. None of those guys are strong defenders and the Bulls' played better all season when either Harrison or Kris Dunn was on the floor to handle the tougher defensive assignments. So that's another reason not to plug Porter into the three spot. Maybe using Porter as a floor-stretching power forward could work.
There's a chance Porter could be healthier next season, maybe boost his energy level and help the Bulls' cause. But they should plan on getting next to nothing from him and consider any other result a bonus.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls