Otto Porter

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Westerlund: Reacting To Bulls' Trade For Otto Porter

The Bulls made a helpful move -- but only after sinking to a great depth.

Cody Westerlund
February 06, 2019 - 10:59 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Just more than a half-hour before tip-off Wednesday evening, the Bulls agreed to trade Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a 2023 second-round pick to the Wizards in exchange for Otto Porter.

It was an unexpected deal that only materialized earlier in the day, and there were multiple layers to the Bulls’ thinking, which went as such:

--- Porter is a quality basketball player who will make them better. He’ll immediately become their best two-way player and slot in as their starting small forward. That positional fit matters too, as the Bulls have been roaming the wilderness in search of a solution at small forward since trading Jimmy Butler in June 2017.

--- Being (a little) more competitive right now matters to the Bulls, who are 12-42 and on track for a top-five draft pick. The young roster has endured a coaching change from the laidback Fred Hoiberg to the military commander-like Jim Boylen, and the initial dysfunction was messy. Too often, the Bulls have been despondent amid ugly losses.

They hope Porter can help create a more competitive culture, which they believe is meaningful for foundational pieces Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. and any other current roster member who may survive the lean times of the rebuild.

--- Porter’s ability to play both ends and his career 39.9 percent 3-point percentage fit the modern game, which should be a statement of formality but is nonetheless significant for a Boylen-led team. He also can play power forward in smaller lineups, giving the Bulls more versatility.

---  Portis declined a four-year offer just before the start of the regular season that the Bulls believed was a fair deal, which set him on a path to restricted free agency. By trading him, the Bulls avoided a situation in which they felt compelled to overpay him by their calculations or let him walk for nothing.

Beyond all that, there was another key factor for the trade from the Bulls’ perspective. It was of the sobering variety.

The Bulls made the move because they understood there was no meaningful chance to attract a premier free agent in July.

By adding Porter and the $55.7 million that he’s owed in the next two seasons, the Bulls lost the maximum salary cap slot they were in line to have open this July. The Bulls had been projected to have more than $40 million in cap space in a mega class of free agents, a number that now projects to be about $21 million, per ESPN. Short of trading Zach LaVine and his $19.5-million cap hit, the Bulls can’t open up a max slot this July.

Free agents spurning the Bulls this summer was fait accompli, something everyone around the league already understood. Still, to see the Bulls act upon that to create this sentence resonates in an alarming way: A big-market team in a world-class city punted on having a maximum salary cap slot open in one of the strongest free-agent classes in years because it understood its franchise was in no way a desirable destination for those who matter the most in the NBA.

There have been no shortage of missteps authored by the Bulls in recent seasons that led to this grave reality.

They launched the respected Tom Thibodeau in May 2015 and verbally eviscerated him on the way out. They slapped championship aspirations on their ensuing hire in Hoiberg and strutted, only to then saddle him with an ill-fitting roster for two seasons. They paid Dwyane Wade about $39 million to play 60 games, and after one of them he went scorched earth on his young teammates. Management stayed silent for a full day, prompting Rajon Rondo to offer an incendiary rebuke of Wade and Jimmy Butler on social media.

The Bulls have consistently dealt or sold second-round picks as if they’re handing out Halloween candy. Never in his three-and-a-half seasons in Chicago did the Bulls figure out how to empower and correctly use the talented Nikola Mirotic. At no point since the June 2016 trade of Derrick Rose have the Bulls found an answer at point guard in a point guard-driven league, and the ensuing disorder has inhibited the growth of others. They once traded for Cam Payne with the belief he could be the point guard of the future. 

They repeated their hometown kid mistake by signing Parker two years after Wade. Too often the Bulls medical staff came under scrutiny. After firing Hoiberg, they hired a coach in Boylen whose principles fly in the face of today's NBA.

Each instance chipped away at the Bulls’ image, at the allure they presented to future free agents. The losses piled up. More than anything, at no point have the Bulls established an identity since Thibodeau left.

So how it seems to go with these Bulls. On a night they could rightfully garner a golf clap for an addition in Porter that should help support their youngsters and give them a more modern look, it had to be noted the move only made sense because of the depths they’d sunk to.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.