Surprisingly, Orlando matches offer sheet for Gortat

When the Mavs signed backup center Marcin Gortat, it seemed like a done deal that the Magic would let him go. But Orlando elected to match the offer.

The Orlando Magic will keep Marcin Gortat by matching the five-year, $34-million offer sheet extended to him by the Dallas Mavericks, the Orlando Sentinel first reported Monday.

“Having quality big men is an absolute must in our league, and Marcin has worked very hard to fit into that category,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said in a statement. “He provides tremendous depth to our frontcourt and we’re happy to bring him back.”

Gortat’s agent, Guy Zucker, told the Dallas Morning News his player is “very, very disappointed.”
The decision is a bold and costly one for the Magic, who will plunge further into luxury-tax territory than many rivals anticipated after their recent trade for Vince Carter by first signing Brandon Bass away from Dallas to a four-year deal worth a reported $18 million and then matching on Gortat.

Retaining Gortat and adding Bass will likely take the Magic’s payroll into the $80 million range for next season, which would force Orlando to cut a luxury-tax check of more than $10 million in July 2010 barring roster moves between now and June 30 of next year to lower that figure.

I don’t get it. They’re willing to give Gortat almost $5 million a season, but they refused to give Hedo Turkoglu — the player mainly responsible for handling and distributing the ball during the Magic’s run to the Finals — the $10 million per season that he was asking for? I don’t mind the Gortat signing by itself, but the Magic may have ruined a good thing by trading for Vince Carter (and in the process, trading away Courtney Lee) and letting Turkoglu get away. Clearly, they are willing to spend — why not keep the most consistent star and main ball handler from last year’s conference champs?

But back to Gortat. It’s understandable why he would be upset. He was penciled in as the starter for the Mavs, but now he has to play behind Dwight Howard for the foreseeable future, limiting the upside of his next contract. But whining through his agent isn’t going to do him any good, is it?

The Magic really screwed the Mavs over on this one. They took their sweet time to match Gortat’s offer sheet, and at the same time they agreed to terms with Brandon Bass, ensuring that Dallas wasn’t going to be able to sign either player. This is a huge blow to the Mavs’ title hopes and is more evidence that the NBA should shorten the time span for a team to match an offer sheet for a restricted free agent.

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Artest to L.A., Ariza to Houston

In a surprising sequence of events, Ron Artest has agreed to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, while Trevor Ariza is headed to Houston with a five-year deal. Both contracts are of the mid-level variety, which are expected to start at about $5.8 million per season.

J.A. Adande writes…

Just as telling is the Lakers’ decision to go with Artest instead of younger Trevor Ariza. It shows they’re putting everything into these next three years and not worrying too much about the future. Ariza would have wanted a five-year contract; Artest was willing to come for three. The end of Artest’s contract coincides with the reported opt-out clause for Bryant. We don’t know whether Kobe will choose to leave in 2012, but we do know this: He’ll be 33 that summer, turning 34 in August. The three years with Artest probably represent Bryant’s last stages of physical superiority over the opposition. He’ll still be ahead of the pack in knowledge and determination, but we’ve already seen some slipping in his athletic ability and it will only decline from here.

So the Lakers are thinking short-term and trying to squeeze in a couple more championships right now. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was even willing to increase his roster’s average age and let one of his best acquisitions walk away, two things general managers are generally loath to do.

Artest gives the Lakers the same qualities as Ariza — perimeter defense and toughness — plus the ability to get his own shot, and a dash of crazy. Ariza wound up in Artest’s old spot in Houston, where he’s actually a better fit. With Yao Ming’s career on pause — at best — the Rockets have to position themselves to be good in a couple of years, perhaps by bringing in a major free agent in 2010 and/or having Yao return from treatment on his feet that might hinder him for the better part of two seasons. Amazing how quickly a team that seemed on the rise in these playoffs now finds itself retooling.

We’ll never know if Ariza was just playing hardball when he expressed frustration that the Lakers wouldn’t offer more than the mid-level because the team called his bluff and moved on. I like this signing for the Rockets, who were originally interested in Orlando big man Marcin Gortat. But when the “Polish Hammer” reportedly made a verbal agreement to join the Mavs, the Rockets moved on to the 24-year-old Ariza.

Artest is a little nutty, and he has the potential to sabotage the Lakers’ season, but it’s not like the team is championship-caliber because they have great chemistry. They don’t. They have more talent than anyone, and when Ariza became irritated with the Lakers’ unwillingness to go over the mid-level, they quickly moved on to their backup plan. Artest will accept his role in L.A. and should fit in just fine, at least defensively. But three years is a long time for him to behave; I expect he’ll have at least one dust up before it’s all said and done.

NBA Free Agency Rumors: Turk, Charlie V, Millsap and more

Pistons, Blazers interested in Hedo Turkoglu.

The Oregonian reports Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and assistant general manager Tom Penn called agent Lon Babby last night to begin the courtship of Hedo Turkoglu.

With Carlos Boozer out of the picture, an NBA source tells the Chicago Sun-Times that Turkoglu is now the Pistons’ first choice in free agency.

While the Blazers’ interest has long been rumored, Detroit’s interest is a little surprising. They already have a very good small forward on the roster in Tayshaun Prince, so unless they’re planning to play Turkoglu at the four, someone is going to lose some minutes. Of the two teams, the Pistons have more cap space, so if they want him, they can get him. (And what about Ben Gordon?)

Charlie V ahead of Turkoglu on the Pistons’ wishlist?

Chicago’s Ben Gordon remains the backcourt player deeply coveted by the Pistons, but the prospect of a Gordon-and-Villanueva combo likely would be slightly cheaper than trying to sign Gordon and Turkoglu with Detroit’s nearly $19 million in projected salary-cap space.

The Pistons may also be interested in Paul Millsap, but anytime a team signs a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, that money is tied up for a week while his current team decides to match. That makes signing an RFA a dicey prospect.

I wonder if the Bucks are regretting letting Villanueva given the amount of interest he’s generating from their division rivals (Detroit and Cleveland).

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2009 NBA Free Agency Preview: The top restricted free agents

Yesterday, I ranked the top unrestricted free agents of 2009, but now it’s time to look at this summer’s crop of restricted free agents (RFA). Teams can sign an RFA to an offer sheet, then his team has seven days to match that offer to retain him. If the player doesn’t sign an offer sheet and can’t come to terms on a new contract with his current team, then he will play for a year for the qualifying offer and then become an unrestricted free agent the following summer.

For each player, I’ll provide his position, age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and an estimate of what kind of contract he’s likely to sign. They’re ranked in order of total value, which is based on overall talent, age, injury history and cost.

1. Paul Millsap, PF (24)
PER: 18.71
In his third year, this former second round pick had the best season of his career. He averaged 13.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, while shooting better than 53% from the field. While Carlos Boozer was out in December and January, the Jazz got a preview of what this kid can do when he gets starter’s minutes. He was a 17/11 guy during those two months, but the Jazz only went 11-13 in games in which Millsap played during that span. His camp expects a deal similar to the one David Lee is asking for, so something in the $10 million per season range. Is he worth it? Probably. And from the sound of it, the Jazz plan on offering him a deal that will keep him from testing the market. If he does explore his options, it may pay off as the Thunder and Pistons are rumored to have interest.
Value: $9.5 – $10.5 million per year

2. David Lee, PF (26)
PER: 19.07
GM Donnie Walsh said that the Knicks’ picking Jordan Hill in this year’s draft has nothing to do with Lee, but the two play the same position, so of course it’s going to have an effect on how the Knicks and Lee each view their relationship. The other issue is that two of the Knicks’ targets in 2010 are Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire might also play the same position as Lee, though Mike D’Antoni would likely play either at center, allowing Lee to play power forward. He gets most of his points off the glass, so he’d be a good fit with either of those guys. The Knicks are projected to have about $35 million in cap space heading into the summer of 2010 and whatever deal they sign Lee to will cut into that. If they want to keep Lee and sign two big-name free agents, then they’re going to have to rid themselves of either Jared Jeffries or Eddy Curry prior to 2010. I like Lee, but he’s not a guy that you can give the ball to on the block and expect him to score, and that limits his value somewhat as a big man. The Thunder, Kings, Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons could all make a serious run at Lee, though anytime a team tries to poach a restricted free agent, it’s a delicate balance between offering him enough to convince the other team to let him go, while getting a reasonable deal at the same time.
Value: $9.0 – $10.0 million per year.

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NBA Free Agency Rumors: ‘Sheed, Boozer, Sessions and more

SLAM ONLINE has sources that are saying that the Cavs and Rasheed Wallace are working on a two-year deal worth $20 million. The interest was prompted by the fact that Dwight Howard pretty much had his way in the paint against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. Wallace will be 35 this September, and has averaged about 12 points and seven boards over the last three seasons. He has the ability to spread the court with his shooting ability and has a reputation for doing a good job defensively on Howard, though the Orlando big man averaged 22 points and 15 rebounds in three games against the Pistons this season. If the Cavs do indeed sign Wallace that kind of a contract, it would trim the team’s projected 2010 cap space from $38 million to $28 million. Also, since the Cavs are over the cap, to make this deal happen, they would have to swing a sign-and-trade with Detroit (for Anderson Varejao?). If the deal falls through, SLAM says that the Cavs may move on to Zach Randolph. Wait…whaaa? 6/11 Update: The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that the Wallace rumors are untrue (and would be illegal if they were true).

DESERET NEWS says that Carlos Boozer isn’t sure that he’s going to opt-out of the final year of his contract (that will pay him $12.7 million) by the end of the month. This contradicts everything he’s been saying up until this point. Maybe Boozer isn’t finding that the market for his services is as strong as he thought it was. It might behoove him to play out his contract, stay healthy (this is key) and join the free agent class of 2010. But by going that route, he will lose the security of a long-term deal. Devin Harris says that Boozer is welcome in New Jersey.

– The RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL reports that Ramon Sessions‘ first choice is to stay with the Bucks, but he understands that the club is up against the luxury tax so things are a little dicey. I think the Bucks will wait to see what kind of offer sheet he gets from another team and then decide whether or not they’ll match, though it would be wise to start negotiations now.

– The NEW YORK POST is reporting that the Knicks are eyeing Magic center Marcin Gortat for their mid-level exception. The Knicks are on the hook for about $24 million in payroll heading into the 2010-11 season, which means that they currently project to have roughly $34 million in cap space. If the Knicks use their mid-level this season, it will trim that space by about $6 million.

– Contrary to earlier reports, if his agent has any say, it’s going to be tough for Ben Wallace to retire, according to the NEWS-HERALD. It would be the best thing for the Cavs, but Arn Tellem isn’t going to let him walk away from $14 million.

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