NBA PM: Is Marcin Gortat Odd Man Out?

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With the Boston Celtics outlasting the Washington Wizards in their do-or-die Game 7 on Monday, the Celtics move on to host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Wizards, meanwhile, will begin an offseason where success will probably be determined by whether the team is able to retain restricted free agent to be, Otto Porter.

It’s probably fair to wonder what became of John Wall in Game 7—while he managed an 18-point, 11-assist double-double, he didn’t hit a single field goal in the game’s fourth quarter.

It’s also probably fair to wonder whether or not Kelly Oubre, Jr. could have made a difference. The impressive sophomore logged just six seconds of game play, perhaps due to a knee ailment of which few knew the severity.

Until July 1, however, the question that is bound to be discussed in D.C. is whether or not the Wizards are willing to do what it will take to retain the services of Porter.

With him, the Wizards came within one game of advancing to their first conference finals since 1979. Without him, it’s hard to imagine them improving.

Marcin Gortat appears to have gotten the memo.

On the day after the Wizards were eliminated, Gortat and other members of the team met with the media. It was Gortat, though, who provided the most curious sound bytes.

“I’m just going to sit down in the summer and talk to my agent, talk to my people and I’m going to analyze if this is the right fit,” Gortat said, according to Ava Wallace of the Washington Post.

Having emerged as a legitimate and productive center, in his fourth season with the Wizards, Gortat managed 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. In the playoffs, his 8.1 points and 11.2 rebounds may have left something to be desired, but his comments as to whether the Wizards are the right fit for him seem curious, at best.

During his availability, Gortat also executed a basketball no-no, commenting on Ian Mahinmi’s signing and how his presence impacts Gortat’s role on the team.

“I know how this business works,” he said. “I’m the oldest guy on the team, they signed Ian, also, he’s younger than me. He got a longer contract. I just know how the business works, so I’m prepared for everything, just in case.”

While it does happen, players do not often offer comment about their futures, and they certainly wouldn’t express any discontent about their role while implicating another teammate. Gortat’s comments are interesting, but they also evoke another good question—why?

The theory? The center was probably told either by the Wizards front office or by his agent that he has probably played his last game for the team. Gortat still has two years and about $26 million remaining on his contract. Considering what he is capable of producing on the court, in today’s NBA economy, it’s the equivalent of paying minimum wage. Despite the fact that the majority of the league has adapted the “small ball” philosophy, the success of the San Antonio Spurs is bound to resonate with at least a few teams, and with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis set to attempt to form a dynamic duo in New Orleans, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Wizards to find a taker for Gortat.

With Mahinmi, it would appear that the Wizards have signed Gortat’s successor. Why this all becomes important now? Simple: Otto Porter.

The Wizards find themselves in a similar predicament as the Toronto Raptors with Kyle Lowry and the Los Angeles Clippers with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Re-signing a player who hasn’t help lead your team (or close to) a conference title is a risky proposition when you consider that annual salaries of $30 million will soon become the norm for gifted players.

Due to an overall lack of playoff success, there are many that would argue against the Raptors giving Lowry a maximum contract that would average $40 million per year, or Steve Ballmer and the Clippers investing the $500 million necessary to re-sign Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick. But for a team that won’t experience any cap relief and have the funds to find an adequate replacement, the adage is simple: you don’t improve as a team by letting talented players walk.

Without question, Porter has played himself into a maximum offer this offseason. With the salary commitments the Wizards have for Bradley Beal, John Wall, Markieff Morris and Mahinmi, the team is looking at almost $70 million in combined salaries for the 2017-18 season. That doesn’t include a potentially re-signed Porter and also, notably, doesn’t include the almost $13 million owed to Gortat.

In sum: although NBA owners have to spend at least 90 percent of the salary cap, becoming a luxury tax team, we are learning, is something that only true contenders are willing to do. Are the Wizards a true contender? Is Gortat the difference between them being one and not? Would you rather pay him $13 million than pay Porter $20 million?

In all three instances, the likely answer is no.

As a result, whether we are likely to see Gortat in a Wizards uniform next season… The answer, unfortunately for him, is probably the same.