Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman and Senior Vice President Tommy Sheppard are flying to Poland on Friday to meet with center and free-agent-to-be Marcin Gortat, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
Earlier this week, Gortat posted a photo on his Instagram account that showed him sitting at a restaurant in Poland with a group that included Wizards assistant coach Pat Sullivan and forward Chris Singleton, who are helping Gortat with his annual basketball camp. Wittman and Sheppard are also headed over to assist with the camp during the weekend while also using the visit to touch base with their center prior to the looming free agent period.
While the Wizards aren’t allowed to discuss anything money-related or negotiate a deal with Gortat or any other free agent until July 1, the trip to Poland marks the first gesture by the Wizards in expressing their desire to re-sign Gortat, who was acquired prior to last season in a trade that sent Emeka Okafor and their first-round pick in Thursday’s NBA draft to Phoenix. The Suns used that pick to select Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis at No. 18.
When asked Thursday night if he plans to contact Gortat, Trevor Ariza and any other priority free agents when the clock strikes midnight on July 1, Wizards President and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said “I’m not going to tell you what my plan is but that’s a very normal procedure that teams makes contact with players they want to deal with.”
Last season, Gortat, who averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds, made $7.7 million in the final year of a five-year, $33.95 million contract he signed with Orlando in 2009. As one of the few impact starting centers on the free-agent market, Gortat is expected to draw attention from a number of teams. But with the Wizards holding the center’s Bird rights, they are able to offer him a bigger contract than any other team and have a meeting like the one set for this weekend, where Washington’s front office can commune with Gortat during his final days as a Wizard under his expiring contract.
Following his exit interviews last month, Gortat said the four primary factors he will consider during free agency are who the point guard is, his projected role on the team, the direction of the team and whether the front office is willing to spend money to build a championship contender. The chemistry built with all-star guard John Wall last season is something that Gortat said attracts him to the Wizards.
“I love the team here,” the 30-year-old said in May. “We can have something special here for the next three, four, five years.”
Gortat and Ariza are two of eight Wizards expected to enter free agency next week. Should Andre Miller be retained as expected as the team’s backup point guard and Glen Rice Jr. have the team option exercised on his rookie contract, the Wizards will have seven players — Miller, Rice, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, Otto Porter and Martell Webster — under contract for a combined payroll of roughly $47 million. The salary cap is projected to raise to about $63 million, granting the Wizards significant space to go after Gortat and Ariza and fill out the rest of their roster.
By trading away the No. 46 overall pick (Missouri point guard Jordan Clarkson) to the Los Angeles Lakers for just under $2 million, the Wizards left open a spot on its 15-man roster that could be used to bring in another proven veteran, a player that Grunfeld and the Wizards hope can help the team build on the expectations created by last season’s playoff run.
Washington entered Thursday’s draft targeting three players for their second-round pick but when the last of these prospects, power forward Dwight Powell out of Stanford, was selected just ahead of Washington with the No. 45 pick by Philadelphia, the Wizards in turn agreed to the trade with the Lakers, according to league sources. The Wizards had brought Powell in for their final set of pre-draft workouts earlier this week.
In 2009, Gortat signed an offer sheet with Dallas worth roughly $34 million for five years, but Orlando ultimately matched the offer and retained the then-restricted free agent. The Mavericks were again thought to be a potential suitor for Gortat this summer, but Wednesday’s deal with New York that sent Tyson Chandler to Dallas likely dropped them out of the Gortat sweepstakes.
Note: Wizards assistant Ryan Saunders has accepted a position with the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Saunders has been with the Wizards organization since his father, Flip, was hired as coach in 2009. He remained with the team after Randy Wittman became the head coach in January 2012.
Because of his contributions in scouting, analytics and with player development, the Wizards were unwilling to let Ryan Saunders leave last year, when Flip Saunders took over as team president and part owner of the Timberwolves.
Washington signed Ryan Saunders to a new deal, and he helped Wittman guide the Wizards to the fifth seed and a second-round playoff appearance. But in a expected move, Saunders is headed back to a better position with his father, who assumed coaching duties of the Timberwolves last month. He remained with the team through draft workouts but is moving on with his contract expiring on June 30.