With the intense NBA offseason cooling down, there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the road ahead. For the next couple of weeks,CSNWashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward the 2015-16 campaign.
Does Marcin Gortat’s five-year, $60 million contract look better or worse one year later?
J. Michael: Gortat joked about it last season, knowing that when free agency hits that $60 million over five years will end up being modest as the salary cap continues to grow. NBA teams have been notified that it’ll jump from $70 million this summer to $90 million next summer and approximately $108 million in 2017.
Like I say time and again about free agency, it’s not about Player A being better than Player B therefore Player A will/should get the better deal. It's about the salary cap and supply-demand economics. Contracts are relative to the market at that time. When Gortat was a free agent, there weren't any other quality true centers out there (Aaron Gray, Cole Aldrich, Spencer Hawes, you get the picture?). The Wizards were able to give him a fifth year, unlike other teams who only could give him four if he sacrificed his Bird rights to leave in free agency. This is the leverage granted under the 2011 CBA to help teams retain their own players. This is why the fifth year exists. If the Wizards only offered him four years -- the same as the competition -- and he left who would've been his replacement? Again, look at the names I listed in the open market. Limited resources means competitive bidding means higher prices.
Enes Kanter, a restricted free agent, made $70 million from the Oklahoma City Thunder because they were obligated to match the max offer he received from the Portland Trail Blazers this summer. Kanter isn’t half the defensive force that Gortat is. He can give up more points than he scores. Omer Asik, who has had a history of back spasms and not nearly the offensive game, got the same deal as Gortat. There were plenty of centers on the market this summer which makes the salary numbers even more stunning considering how teams appear to be going to smaller lineups which should, in theory, decrease their value.
What could look like overpayment today (I thought Gortat's deal was not, for the record) looks like a bargain 12 months from now. Far lesser players will continue to make more money. Gortat may be on the other side of 30 but he stays in great shape. Tyson Chandler has a long injury history and will be 33 when the season starts. He was given a four-year, $52 million deal from the Phoenix Suns this summer.
Ben Standig: One could make the argument that the deal looks even better in the short term when noting deals signed this summer by Asik, Kanter and Robin Lopez. Something else we should note: The Polish Machine dropped the hammer on opponents after the All-Star break. In 28 games, Gortat averaged 13.4 points on 62 percent shooting from the field with 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while committing less than one turnover per game despite averaging over 31 minutes. Not sure everyone remembers, but an argument could also be made that Gortat was the Wizards' best player over the final weeks of the season. He also dominated Toronto in Washington's first round sweep, though had a tougher time against Atlanta's mobile frontcourt in the semifinal round loss.
All that said, there really wasn't much of an issue with the first 2-3 years of Gortat's deal. The concern centered on the final two seasons when he turns 34 and 35. Gortat's lack of wear-and-tear from limited use early in his career has been well documented. He's played 184 out of a possible 185 games over two years in Washington, including 21 playoff games. The one possible game-changer is just how much the game has seemingly changed in quick order with regards to small ball lineups. But big men still roam the courts and Gortat is poised to be Washington's top one for a while.