The Washington Post

Wizards make initial pitches to keep Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza

INDIANAPOLIS – MAY 5: Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4), center, and the rest of the bench cheer after a foul during the second half of the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Wizards and the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Field House on Monday, May 5, 2014. The Washington Wizards defeated the Indiana Pacers 102-96. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

In the hours leading up to the free agent negotiating period, Trevor Ariza was celebrating his 29th birthday while hanging out with friends, family and a few Wizards teammates, including John Wall and Al Harrington. Wall has openly campaigned for Ariza all season and didn’t deny that he used the time to make one more pitch before other teams were able to formally express interest in Ariza’s services.

“That’s my guy he know I want him back,” Wall wrote in a text message.

Coach Randy Wittman and Vice President of Player Programs Ed Tapscott are expected to meet with Ariza in Los Angeles around noon Tuesday in an attempt to keep the Wizards’ starting lineup together. The trip was a quick turnaround for Wittman, who returned on Monday from Poland with Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards senior vice president, visited with Marcin Gortat as the 6-foot-11 center held camps throughout his native country.

The Wizards used the first few hours that teams were allowed to speak with free agents to reach out primarily to their own players on the open market. Gortat and Ariza were at the top of the list, especially since they will have to compete with other several teams to keep the duo in Washington. But the Wizards have an advantage because they are able to offer more money and years than other teams.

Gortat is the biggest priority of the two after the team sacrificed a first-round pick and Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract to keep him next season. The Wizards are confident that they will present a financial package to ensure that Gortat won’t leave for Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers or any other potential suitor. Gortat is expected to command an annual salary in the $11 million to $13 million range after averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 81 games last season.

Ariza is also in high demand. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami, Dallas, Utah, Cleveland and Phoenix all contacted Ariza, who is also expected to attract attention from Detroit and Houston. The Wizards already have about $10 million committed to the small forward position but have a greater need to keep Ariza after Martell Webster went down with a herniated disk that will cost him at least the first month of the regular season.

After earning $7.7 million last season, when he shot a career-high 40.7 percent from three-point range and assumed the responsibility of defending the opposition’s best scorer, Ariza is looking to get a raise. Many of the teams interested in Ariza are also hoping to sit down with LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, so it might take more time to secure a deal with the 6-8 swingman.

Trevor Booker became an unrestricted free agent when the Wizards declined to tender a qualifying offer worth $4.7 million. The 6-8 power forward has generated considerable interest, with Miami, Minnesota, Utah, Orlando, New York and Brooklyn joining the Wizards in expressing their interest, according to league sources with knowledge of the situation.

The Wizards would also like to bring back Garrett Temple and Drew Gooden, and both players have interest in returning. Harrington had surgery on his left shoulder after the season ended but said he still hopes to keep playing.

“I’m feeling good,” Harrington wrote in a text message.

Harrington has a home in Las Vegas and plans to assist the coaching staff in summer league. Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. will be featured on the Wizards summer league team but people with knowledge of the situation have confirmed that veterans Daniel Orton (a 6-10 center and Wall’s former teammate at Kentucky) and Luke Harongody (a 6-7 forward who last played in Cleveland) and undrafted rookie free agents Deonte Burton (a 6-1 point guard from Nevada), Khem Birch (a 6-9 forward from UNLV), Jerrell Eddie (a 6-7 swingman from Virginia Tech) and Daniel Miller (a 6-11 big man from Georgia Tech) will also be on the roster.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · June 30, 2014

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