Marcin Gortat returned from his native Poland and landed in his offseason home of Orlando on Tuesday evening having failed to reach an agreement on a new deal with the Washington Wizards. A few hours later, Gortat – tired and fatigued from a day spent talking and traveling – agreed to a five-year deal worth $60 million to remain in Washington, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Players are not allowed to officially sign deals until July 10, when then the league-wide moratorium on trades and contracts is lifted. But Gortat confirmed the agreement on his Twitter account by writing, “I’m proud to say Washington will be my home.”
After advancing to the second round for the first time in nine years, the Wizards have made it a priority to keep their core intact, with a special emphasis on Gortat, a 6-foot-11 center. Washington contacted Gortat immediately after the free agent negotiating period began at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time and were engaged in contract talks a few hours later.
The swift agreement with the 30-year-old Gortat allows the Wizards to shift their focus to also bringing back starting small forward Trevor Ariza, who had a resurgent season and established himself as the team’s best three-point shooter and perimeter defender.
“It’s incumbent upon us to try and do everything we can to keep our front line together,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said in a radio interview with 106.7 The Fan. “And so, that’s our main focus right now. And we can manage our cap in the out years the right way, we still will have some maneuverability this year to add more pieces, but we have a plan and we have our budget and we know what’s doable. Our main focus and priority is to try to keep our team together to start and then add to it.”
Coach Randy Wittman, senior vice president Tommy Sheppard and assistant Pat Sullivan visited Poland over the weekend to assist Gortat with his basketball camps and send the message that the team is serious about retaining him, though they were unable to discuss contract terms.
The Wizards were confident that they would be able to keep Gortat and expected that he will come with a price tag in the $11 million to $13 million range, based on the market for skilled big men. The two sides were initially unable to agree upon the number of years, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation. When Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld added the fifth year, Gortat agreed to return. The deal has no player or team options and is fully guaranteed.
Gortat averaged 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field in his lone season in Washington. He arrived a few days before the start of the season in a deal that sent the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first round pick – which turned out to be Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis – to the Phoenix Suns.
After taking some time to get adjusted to Wittman’s system and his teammate, Gortat emerged as one of the most outspoken and gregarious players on the team. Nicknamed “The Polish Hammer,” Gortat served as a defensive anchor for the Wizards, meshed well with Brazilian big man Nene and had developed a solid, pick-and-roll chemistry with all-star point guard John Wall that was evident during a six-game series loss to the Indiana Pacers. Before a Game 5 win, Gortat approached a struggling Wall and told him, “I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it goes, I’m supporting you.”
Gortat went out and had a career-high 31 points and 16 rebounds and Wall had a playoff-high 27 points in a 102-79 victory. Wall actually announced Gortat’s agreement with the Wizards on his Twitter account. He wrote, “Got my man @MGortat back now waitin for my bro @TrevorAriza…Come on !!”
In his exit interview in May, Gortat said that playing with a quality point guard would play a huge role in free agent decision while adding, “John is probably on top of that list.” But Gortat had become very comfortable in Washington and even established a relationship with the Polish Embassy. Gortat shared the same chef as Ryszard Schnepf, Poland’s ambassador to the United States.
“Coming here to Washington, I had a lot of fear. I didn’t know how it was going to be,” Gortat said. “I was afraid of the city, I was afraid of the team. There was a lot of rumors about John and what kind of player he is. And I’m not going to lie, wins help you to find yourself in your environment. I think that’s what happened with me. It took me time to find sweet spots in the city. Now I can say I like this city.”
Ariza has generated attention from several teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, Cleveland, Houston and Detroit. But the process of the Wizards keeping him could take longer since the 6-foot-8 swingman could serve as a backup plan for teams that fail to attract either Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, who is sending hints to the rest of the league that he intends to remain in Miami after winning two championships with the Heat.
Wittman and Vice President of Player Programs Ed Tapscott visited with Trevor Ariza in Los Angeles to express a desire to keep him in uniform. The sit-down with Ariza – who turned 29 on Monday – was described by a person with knowledge of the situation as “a good initial meeting. Nothing more.”
Though keeping Ariza remains the Wizards’ preferred option after his resurgent season, the team has reached out to other potential replacements. Washington contacted the representatives of Cleveland free agent forward and two-time all-star Luol Deng to express interest, according to person with knowledge of the situation. Deng could be out of the Wizards’ price range since he rejected a three-year, $30 million extension from Chicago before getting dealt to the Cavaliers last season.
The Wizards didn’t want to risk losing Gortat, who was expected to attract attention from Miami, the Lakers and Cleveland. The Heat was setting up to become a serious threat to acquire Gortat after the Portland Oregonian and ESPN both reported that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were willing to take significant pay cuts to ensure that the team can acquire a big-name free agent. Miami is now reportedly targeting Toronto Raptors free agent point guard Kyle Lowry.