September 30, 2022

Eleven months ago, Otto Porter Jr. entered free agency as something of a wild card. Every NBA executive knew what they could do when they were healthy, but no one could count on them being healthy. Due to foot and back injuries, he had played 28 games in the 2020-21 season, and only half that number in the previous one. If you’ve ever forgotten that he was once a member of the Orlando Magic, it’s because after acquiring him about 15 months ago, he only appeared in three games for them.

Porter signed with the Golden State Warriors last summer in hopes of getting his career back on track. It was a minimum contract, and it was the best decision he could have made. He played in 63 regular season games, traded nearly all of his long 2-for-3s, and won a championship, starting the final three games in the NBA Finals. Porter gave the Warriors some defensive versatility and some frontcourt shooting. It was perfectly suited for their movement-focused attack. It worked so well that he won’t be coming back.

The 29-year-old forward agreed to a two-year contract with the Toronto Raptors on Friday, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. He would have a player option in the second season. The salary has yet to be announced, but, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, Toronto will use part of its $10.5 million mid-tier exception for non-taxpayers.

For the Raptors, Porter is an ideal complement. It gives them more length, size, and switchability than they have up and down the list, plus the turning they desperately need. From 2020-21 to 2021-22, Toronto went from fifth to 22nd in frequency by 3 points, according to Cleaning The Glass, and its accuracy went from average (36.8%) to mediocre (34.9%). Specifically, the Raptors had the worst shooting bench in the NBA from long range — their reserves shot 30.9 percent from deep, according to NBA.com, and shot less than 3 per 100 possessions than all but one team. Porter will provide spacing on the second unit and can slip into the starting lineup when Toronto is shorthanded.

Among analysts, the Raptors have been a popular destination for Kevin Durant in hypothetical trade scenarios. If they don’t make any trades, however, they’ve already put together a solid offseason – before Porter’s deal, they brought back Chris Boucher on a announced a three-year, $35.3 million deal and Thaddeus Young on a two-year, $16 million deal. With some progression from rookie of the year Scottie Barnes and a stronger bench, they should come back better than they were.

It’s less clear if champions will be better or not. Now that Porter has followed Gary Payton II out the door, Golden State is losing two of the eight players who were still in the rotation at the end of the Finals. Nemanja Bjelica, another useful addition on a minimum contract, would leave for Fenerbahce. Juan Toscano-Anderson, who contributed during the regular season and played a big role in the Warriors’ 15-5 finish in 2020-21, left for the Lakers.

Golden State has signed big man Kevon Looney to a three-year, $25.5 million deal, by ESPN, a boon for a player who has played a crucial role in his championship run. Beyond that, with the front office seemingly constrained by the repeater tax, free agency will be about finding the next Porter and the next Payton: high-profile players who are willing to sign for the bare minimum. If guys like that were easy to find, the Warriors would have a long list of similar successes.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours since teams were officially allowed to negotiate with free agents, and the market dries up. Could Juancho Hernangomez, fresh from his star turn in “Hustle”, play the role of Porter? Could Caleb Martin give Golden State some of the perimeter defense it lost when Payton walked? The front office can’t convince Marc Gasol to leave the team he founded in Spain, can they?

However the Warriors fill out the roster, you can expect two words from the Bay Area: internal development. James Wiseman, drafted No. 2 overall in 2020, is 21. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, drafted in the 2021 lottery, will both be 20 at the start of the 2022-23 regular season. In a perfect world, they’ll all be poised to move up the rotation and collectively make up for the talent the team has lost. While Wiseman missed the entire championship season, Kuminga and Moody contributed when called upon. The rookies even had their playoff moments.

It’s significant that Steve Kerr’s coaching staff felt comfortable putting Kuminga and Moody on the court in some playoff games. It’s another thing, however, to rely on them – and Wiseman, who remains a major question mark – night after night while trying to defend the title. Golden State knows better than anyone that at the top, the margin for error is miniscule. If the Warriors find themselves up against a small, dynamic guard in next year’s playoffs, they’ll have to put someone other than Payton on him. If they need to be small, but not too small, they will have to play someone other than Porter in 4th place. Depth was one of the many virtues of the 2021 roster, but if it is to regain strength in numbers, the front office needs to get creative.