It was with that understanding the Bulls arrived at the conclusion to make an emotionally-difficult-but-basketball-rational decision Wednesday evening, when they acquired Otto Porter from the Wizards in exchange for the beloved Bobby Portis, the aloof Jabari Parker and a 2023 second-round pick. In doing so, the Bulls sacrificed a maximum salary cap slot this summer, cutting their $40 million in cap space to around $20 million after taking on the $55.7 million that Porter is owed over the next two seasons.
Which was perfectly fine with them.
"We are realistic in terms of what the free agent market is," executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Thursday afternoon after the trade deadline passed at 2 p.m. "We’re not in the position to go after the big names, the franchise changers. We’re looking at things realistically. We also looked ahead to this summer and even the summer beyond, looked at available wings and versatile players, and the list is what it is, no guarantees of getting players like that. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to get a player like Otto.
"But the cap-space issue for us, it just made sense because we’re realistic knowing we’re not going to be huge players in terms of the big names."
In the simplest terms, the Bulls prioritized their need for a starter at small forward over the need to retain a backup big man in Portis, who will be a restricted free agent this summer after turning down a four-year offer from Chicago just before the start of the regular season. Amid a turbulent rebuild, the Bulls wanted to improve now rather than chance anything in the uncertainty of the draft or free agency.
The Bulls envision the 25-year-old Porter providing a marked upgrade, given his solid two-way play and a career 3-point percentage that's just shy of 40 percent. He's averaging 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds on 45.7 percent shooting in 41 games this season.
The Bulls had expressed interest in Porter to the Wizards "several times" in the past year, general manager Gar Forman said.
"Otto Porter is what the league is, 6-6 to 6-8, multi-position defender, can 3-and-D," coach Jim Boylen said. "As you said, (he) has got playoff experience. I think I read where he had (31) games of playoff experience, which is exciting to me, which means he's been in what it's all about and had those moments that really develop you as a player with the highest amount of pressure on you. So yeah, he fits. He fits."
Porter's ability to play power forward in smaller lineups was also appealing to the Bulls, who continue to envision using second-year standout Lauri Markkanen at center for stretches moving forward. In a changing, more versatile NBA, the Bulls haven't kept up well enough in recent seasons.
They believe Porter helps them take a step in that direction.
"This was consistent with the direction we chose," Paxson said. "We feel really good about it. We’re going to stay committed to the long term and what we’re trying to build with some sustainability. We feel Otto fits that mold."
Paxson refused to delve into a timeline for the Bulls' rebuild, and he also downplayed the belief that premier free agents ignoring the organization is in any way a black mark on it. He's comfortable in what the Bulls did at the trade deadline, believing they took another step forward.
"Is it a black eye? No," Paxson said. "I don’t consider it (that). That’s our aspiration (to attract stars). We’ve understood that process we’re in right now is hoping to get to that point, but we also believe that the draft is very important in order to build to get to there. And that’s why we are sitting here a year-and-a-half after trading Jimmy (Butler) with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter out of the draft, another draft pick coming up and time will tell. But I’m confident in our ability to get there because we’ve done it before and we understand that as painful as it is for our fans and everybody else, that we have to remain patient and continue to constantly make the decisions we’re making."