An ideal fit for Raptors, Otto Porter Jr. leaves Warriors, putting NBA champs in a precarious place

Eleven months ago, Otto Porter Jr. entered free agency as something of a wild card. Every executive in the NBA knew what he could do when healthy, but nobody could count on him being healthy. Due to foot and back injuries, he’d played 28 games in the 2020-21 season, and only half that number in the previous one. If you have already forgotten that he was ever a member of the Orlando Magic, it’s because, after they acquired him about 15 months ago, he only appeared in three games for them. 

Porter signed with the Golden State Warriors last summer hoping to get his career back on track. It was a minimum contract, and it was the best decision he could have possibly made. He played in 63 regular-season games, traded almost all of his long 2s for 3s and won a championship, starting the last three games of the NBA Finals. Porter gave the Warriors some defensive versatility and some shooting in the frontcourt. He was a perfect fit in their movement-oriented offense. It worked out so well that he’s not 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’ll reportedly have a player option on the second season. The salary has yet to be reported, but, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, Toronto will use some of its $10.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception. 

For the Raptors, Porter is an ideal addition. He gives them more of the length, size and switchability that they have up and down the roster, plus the shooting that they desperately need. From 2020-21 to 2021-22, Toronto dropped from fifth to 22nd in 3-point frequency, per Cleaning The Glass, and its accuracy went from average (36.8 percent) to poor (34.9 percent). More specifically, the Raptors had the worst-shooting bench in the NBA from long-range — their reserves shot 30.9 percent from deep, per, and shot fewer 3s per 100 possessions than all but one team. Porter will provide spacing on the second unit and can slide 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 at all, though, they’ve already put together a solid offseason — before the Porter deal, they brought back Chris Boucher on a reported three-year, $35.3 million deal and Thaddeus Young on a reported 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 whether or not the champs will be better. Now that Porter has followed Gary Payton II out the door, Golden State is down two of the eight players who were still in the rotation at the end of the Finals. Nemanja Bjelica, another helpful addition on a minimum contract, is reportedly leaving 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, is off to the Lakers.

Golden State retained big man Kevon Looney on a three-year, $25.5 million deal, per ESPN, a bargain for a player who was crucial to its championship run. Beyond that, with the front office apparently constrained by the repeater tax, free agency will be about looking for the next Porter and the next Payton: high-level role players who are willing to sign for the minimum. If guys like that were easy to find, though, then the Warriors would have a long list of similar success stories.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours since teams were officially allowed to negotiate with free agents, and the market is drying up. Could Juancho Hernangomez, fresh off his star turn in “Hustle,” play the Porter role? 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 it?

Regardless of how the Warriors fill out the roster, you can expect two words out of the Bay Area: Internal development. James Wiseman, drafted No. 2 overall in 2020, is 21 years old. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, drafted in the 2021 lottery, will both be 20 when the 2022-23 regular season starts. In a perfect world, they’ll all be ready to earn spots in the rotation and, collectively, make up for the talent that the team has lost. While Wiseman missed the entire championship season, Kuminga and Moody contributed when called upon. The rookies even had their moments in the playoffs.

It is meaningful that Steve Kerr’s coaching staff felt comfortable putting Kuminga and Moody on the court in certain playoff matchups. It is another thing entirely, though, to rely on them — and Wiseman, who remains a major question mark — on a night-to-night basis while trying to defend the title. Golden State knows better than anybody that, at the top, the margin for error is minuscule. If the Warriors find themselves facing a small, dynamic guard in next year’s postseason, they’ll need to put someone other than Payton on him. If they need to go small, but not too small, they’ll need to play someone other than Porter at the 4 spot. Depth was one of the 2021 roster’s many virtues, but if it’s going to find strength in numbers again, the front office needs to get creative.