One of the prevailing themes from the Wizards' press conference to announce Otto Porter's new contract last week was the simple fact the Wizards really like what they already have, enough so that making major roster changes did not seem wise. By bringing Porter back, they maintain an element of continuity which they collectively see as pivotal to success.
Majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced continuity often during the press conference and afterwards in his off-camera meeting with the media. With Porter under contract for four more years, plus the deals already signed by John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards have ensured that trio will have played together for eight years by the end of the 2020-21 season. That's a long time in professional sports.
"The data points are, for the most part, the teams whose core has stayed together have good results," he said. "The hodgepodge grabbing of players, throwing free agents in and expecting them to get it and fit, that hasn’t been the case. So, you try to be guided by data and continuity works. You look at the best team in the league, [the Golden State Warriors], their core has been there for a long time. They were able to bring in a free agent [in Kevin Durant]. We have tried to bring in free agents and we’re not going to stop. We have to manage things well, but I still think we can improve our team."
The Wizards aren't the first team Leonsis has owned or business he has run and says the same concepts apply to other ventures he has been successful with in the past. That includes the Washington Capitals, who have a proven formula for the regular season. Three times in the last eight years they have won the Presidents' Trophy for the best record in the NHL.
Leonsis believes keeping the same players together has had major benefits in chemistry.
"What I’ve learned is that a lot of times it’s better the devil that you know than the devil that you don’t," Leonsis said of retaining players a team drafted. "You get to see how they practice. You get to see who they hang out. You get to see their commitment to their health. The coach now has a real, loud voice. [Scott Brooks] told us how important Otto was to what he’s trying to do. You want coachable players. You want good people and that’s what was happening with the Caps, too."
Brooks has one year under his belt as head coach of the Wizards and that one season was characterized by change. Beyond the starting lineup, there were many new players on the bench. There was a brand new coaching staff and training staff, as well.
Next year should be different in that regard and Brooks believes continuity will keep them trending in the right direction. He sees a core group that is continuing to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"I think it’s huge for our success moving forward. It’s nice to have players who can do it on both ends of the floor," he said. "Now we have three perimeter guys who are basically interchangeable on the defensive end. They can all guard each other’s players."
Porter fits well within that strategy given his complementary style. He can play off the ball while the Wizards' offense runs primarily through Wall and Beal. Last season Porter was super efficient with a team-best 60.8 effective field goal percentage, yet he was seventh in usage percentage among the Wizards' core rotation players. He doesn't need plays run for him or a high volume of shots to still make an impact offensively.
Porter feels that comfortability and fit will help the Wizards continue to reach new heights after posting their most wins (49) and first division title in 38 years.
"Sticking with the guys and keeping that small core, we can only go up from here. There’s no going backwards," he said.
Keeping teams together can be easier said than done, of course. Stars leave their teams all the time and especially in the NBA. Leonsis believes there are reasons why he has been able to prevent that with both the Wizards and Caps.
"I think when players are young and you can develop a relationship with them that’s built on trust and that they internalize that Washington, D.C. is a great city and when you’re in it together, it makes these things easy," he said. "It’s not like I’ve had to sell Alex [Ovechkin] and Nick [Backstrom] and John. If you’ve noticed, players are leaving other teams that the team didn’t want to lose. That happens all the time. That’s not happening with us. The players that we want to keep, they believe in us."
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