July 1st is supposed to be the day that sets off all fireworks, gives the average fan the ability to get excited about the NBA again, and re-centralizes the world of sports on basketball. The occasional financial maven could even glance at a free agent signing and get intrigued.
This wacky, eldritch year has changed things a bit.
After the NBA Finals conclude, it’s supposed to die down. The dust settles, as does the drama, and attention turns toward celebrating the new champion. Baseball fans come out of the woodworks, and the crying & sobbing begins when we realize it’ll be four months until we see dribbles again.
Not this season, due to a couple powerful, attention-grabbing events.
First, the World Cup. Goodness gracious, I’ve never seen our country so thoroughly invested in a soccer team. Bravo for what they were able to accomplish. Maybe if Landon Donovan wasn’t in a suit talking on television, we could have witnessed full potential.
Then, there was the most authoritative and influential free agent in history — LeBron Raymone James. Seriously, anyone who can make 2/3 of the league wait on their free agent shopping deserves to be called by his whole name. Adam Silver may be the commissioner of the greatest association in sports, but there’s no way in hell he holds a candle to the power LeBron has. Not in this day in age. He’s 29 years old, and wants to be the highest paid player on his team for the first time.
Ernie Grunfeld and the Washington Wizards weren’t going to let LeBron get too entertained about their Polish center. They’re not about this type of system, and don’t have to worry about it for the next four years — when their own superstar, John Wall, is ready to explore the market.
Just as the opening day of NBA’s free agency period appeared dead, Washington wasted no time in attacking center Marcin Gortat with a rewarding, well-deserved contract. Gortat had hit the market on Tuesday due to his previous deal — signed in 2009 — running out with the Wizards. In a year that includes the frontcourt free agents of Andray Blatche, Kris Humphries, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Josh McRoberts, everyone on Pat Riley‘s roster, and Pau Gasol, the Wizards obviously had a valuable asset in the pool. Gortat, today, eats alive any of those names, and he would’ve easily been the most sought after center.
Gortat signed a five-year, $60 million contract on Tuesday to stay with the Wizards, after being bounced out in the second round by an Indiana team that finally decided to find themselves …. for one week.
The franchise that immediately felt uneasy when Gortat tweeted a major smiley face was the Miami Heat, no question about it. Miami has been trying to play their pitches to free agents one step ahead, by telling guys available that they’ll have $11-12 million in cap space when the Big three re-signs. They hoped to draw in Kyle Lowry after being in multiple talks with his agent, Andy Miller, but LeBron demanding the max money hurts those chances.
It chewed into their hopes of landing Gortat as well, since the Polish 7-footer doesn’t have the type of personality at this stage in his career to risk huge cash. Miami wouldn’t have had a chance at Gortat, who would propel them back into the NBA Finals due to their desperate need for a big man with aggression.
Gortat just turned 30, and this is only his second contract in the league after becoming established. Are you kidding me?
He’s been looking for his pay day, and this was his time. Remember, Dallas was determined to bring him in for a starting position in July 2009. Orlando wasn’t set on giving up their backup center, so they matched the offer sheet and returned him to the bench, behind Dwight Howard. His deal with Orlando was worth $34 million, stretched out five years. He’s been addicted to these five year deals.
Consider that salary jump. His previous deal gave him an average annual salary of $6.8 million, whereas his new deal will bump that up to $12 million, which gives him a $5.2 million pay raise for a long-term deal. It’s unquestionable, Gortat isn’t leaving that money on the table, considering how highly he thinks of himself when it comes to affecting the game.
After the playoff run ended for the Wizards, Gortat explained just how he wanted to approach finding a destination:
“I don’t want to just be a rim runner and rebounder, and trying to set screens and stuff like that,” Gortat said in May. “I don’t want to be the decoy. I want to be the guy who can get the ball and create stuff for other guys.”
When a guy depicted as a “hammer” elucidates himself and his desired playstyle in that manner, you listen. That’s the opposite indication of a hot free agent looking to take a pay cut. In Gortat’s case, it wouldn’t have even been a pay cut to join Miami. He would be winning, playing in another Finals, for roughly the same amount of dough he earned in Orlando, Phoenix, and Washington.
However, you can’t look through that lens.
He’s been waiting five years for his time to feel wanted, and more importantly, needed. Guys have to make their money in this league, as we see players get overpaid every year for flashes of dominance in a season.
In Gortat’s case, he’ll only get an 8-figure salary once. He couldn’t afford not to take it, especially considering Washington could finally be in the same boat as Miami next season. Do the evaluation. Randy Wittman was able to guide this mixed group of youth and veterans to a five seed after starting off the year shaky. They’ll be off on the right foot come November if they take care of Trevor Ariza, and on a path toward 50-54 wins in the East. Miami, in their incredibly tough free agent situation, will be on LeBron’s back for majority of the year and could enter seed competition with the Wizards.
For Gortat, it was a home run. But, you have to ponder, was waiting all through July an option for a grand slam?
Teams with dollops of cap space will have their chances to convince LeBron to come to their city. As 98 percent of us believe at this juncture, he’ll re-sign with Miami, and those teams on the market will hang their heads for a day or two. Then, some of them will be in a desperate spot.
Some franchises will intentionally dump off salary — via trades, amnesties, stretch provisions, and refusal to re-sign their own free agents. All of that will be for a waste, as teams will then have to scavenge to fill roster needs when they miss out on the superstar names. Enter: Marcin Gortat. Or, it could have been.
Understand, we have absolutely no idea what some of these executives have in mind when it comes to how much they’re willing to pay a player. If it fits a need or makes them instantly contenders, overpaying isn’t something new in this league. With Gortat — or any desirable, second-tier player — left on the market after the LeBron drama, he’ll get calls left and right.
Especially with this 2014 free agent class being relatively shallow compared to 2015, Gortat’s name would’ve been circled, with blood-red marker. Someone would overpay him, knowing they missed out on the big prize and time would be ticking to fill out the foundation of a roster. It can’t be dismissed that Gortat could have earned more, perhaps for a shorter term deal.
However, loyalty set in for the dynamic center, and he realizes this core group may be the most stable in the Eastern Conference. With the fallout Indiana suffered, the disappearance of Wade & Bosh in the Finals, and the uncertainty within Chicago’s situation, that’s not far from the truth.
Five years, Washington … Five years?
From a basketball standpoint, the deal made the most sense for the Wizards to get completed, ASAP.
This past regular season, only four players attempted at least 350 shots in the restricted area, and shot over 71 percent. LeBron James (78.3 percent), Kevin Durant (77.5 percent), DeAndre Jordan (71.9 percent) topped the league.
The Polish Hammer, who become much harder to shut down than the government over in D.C. Gortat was right behind that pack, scoring on 71.1 percent of his attempts in the restricted area.
How about strictly inside the paint, but outside the restricted area? Gortat was 41.8 percent efficient, higher than Roy Hibbert ($15 million last year), Greg Monroe, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMarcus Cousins. He has more than a respectable touch when it comes to scoring, and that’s not even what he does best.
But, a fifth year awarded — in guaranteed money — to a guy that will be 35 years old at the end of the deal? It’s hard to co-sign on that, am I wrong?
Last season, only 11 centers averaged double figure scoring. In addition, only 11 centers averaged over 7 rebounds per game during the season grind.
None of them were age 35 or older, or even remotely close.
It’s what Washington had to do to ensure Gortat’s services, and for the love of God, the salary better drop off toward the back end of the deal. The Wizards could have structured the deal to where he is granted $60 million over five years, but he wouldn’t necessarily be playing for $12 million during that fifth season. It’s amazing how many complexions salary caps give professional stars.
The health of Nene plays into this high-dollar deal for Gortat, more than people think.
Washington’s 31-year-old power forward hasn’t played a full season since 2009-10 — when he was alongside Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Yes, it’s been a while, fans.
Only being able to suit up for 53 games last year for the Wizards, Nene is just the one large question mark for the franchise moving forward. When — not if — he’s viewed as a player they can’t trust to be on the floor, Gortat provides that long term mitigation in the middle.
Once, I stood next to Gortat in the locker room after Game 2′s loss to Indiana in the second round. Next to me, an elderly reporter told him “You had a great game out there, Marcin.” 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting fits the description, right?
“Not really,” he uttered back.
That’s just the type of fire, attitude, and winning motive that D.C. needs. The city will likely be making stronger moves in the Verizon Center than they will at the White House. They’ll thank their newest double-figure guy for that one.
In all, it’s good for Marcin. Now, for those boxing face-offs he wants during game action. That’s next on the checklist.
**All statistical support credited to NBA.com**
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.