Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Rockets, Mavs chasing Gortat
By Chris Sheridan
Restricted free agent Marcin Gortat was scheduled to meet Wednesday with the Dallas Mavericks, ESPN.com learned, making the Mavs the second Texas team to personally court the Orlando center in the first 24 hours of free agency.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey showed up at Gortat's home in Orlando just after midnight ET Wednesday, virtually the minute teams were officially allowed to begin negotiating with free agents. Morey even announced the meeting on his Facebook page and urged fans to leave notes for Gortat at an e-mail address -- email@example.com.
"He was reading them with some intensity," Morey said. "He was impressed by the number of messages and how much the fans seem to care about their team. I knew Rockets fans would come through."
A third Texas team, the San Antonio Spurs, also was making a play for the 6-foot-11 center from Poland who spent the past two seasons backing up Dwight Howard with the Magic. Other teams that have expressed interest include the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks, a league source told ESPN.com.
Orlando has the right to match any offer Gortat receives, but such a move would put the Magic far into luxury tax territory. The Magic's other key free agent, Hedo Turkoglu, is unrestricted, and Orlando has similar luxury tax concerns in deciding whether to retain him. Turkoglu was scheduled to meet Tuesday night with Blazers coach Nate McMillan, then fly to Portland later this week.
Gortat has only two years of NBA experience, putting him into a category known as an "Early Bird" free agent.
The "Early Bird" rules were changed in the last collective bargaining agreement after the Washington Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas to an offer sheet that the Golden State Warriors were unable to match because of their existing salary-cap commitments.
Under the new rules, no team can offer Gortat more than the midlevel exception (expected to be about $5.8 million for the upcoming season) in the first two years of any offer sheet.
But a team could include a third year (and a fourth and fifth) at any number up to the maximum allowed under collective bargaining rules -- provided that the team tendering the offer sheet has enough space under the cap to absorb Gortat's new cap number, which would be different from his actual salary. (For instance, Oklahoma City could offer a three-year deal with salaries of $5.8 million, $6.2 million and $12 million, which would put Gortat on their cap for $8 million -- $24 million divided by three -- in each of the next three seasons. But if Orlando were to match such an offer, Gortat's actual salary, not his average, would go on the Magic's cap.)
Gortat's agent, Guy Zucker, said Morey even showed up in Orlando with a Rockets jersey with Gortat's name on it. He also said his client was interested in the Rockets.
"We had planned to meet teams later on in the process," Zucker said. "So this was a big surprise. The jersey with his name on it really caught him off-guard."
Morey said the Rockets made Gortat an offer, but would not divulge details.
"He's someone we've targeted for some time, even before this season," Morey said. "Although he's early in his career in terms of experience, we feel like he's a guy who has a lot of potential over time."
All the love for Gortat is driven by the uncertainty surrounding Yao Ming after the team doctor said Monday that the hairline fracture in Yao's left foot could threaten his career. The team said last week that Yao was out indefinitely and was seeking other medical opinions to plot a new course of treatment. Morey had no update on Yao's condition on Wednesday.
Gortat averaged just 3.8 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last season and 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds during the Magic's playoff run to the NBA Finals.
Dallas is looking for a big man to back up starter Erick Dampier, though Dampier's expiring contract makes him a juicy trade target this offseason. The Mavericks may be dangling a bigger role for Gortat, either right away or by the start of the following season.
Dallas also can offer the chance to be part of a team that's won 50 games and made the playoffs each of the past nine years. With Dirk Nowitzki still in his prime, team owner Mark Cuban is doing all he can to win now -- something that might be tougher for the Rockets to do with Yao and Tracy McGrady recovering from serious injuries.
Morey said that the Rockets were looking for a reserve center even before the severity of Yao's injury was known. Dikembe Mutombo, who backed up Yao over the past five seasons, is retiring.
"We were targeting lots of players," Morey said. "We feel like Marcin would not only make a good backup, but also has the potential to be a solid starter."
Zucker said Gortat was very tempted by the Rockets' offer. Houston pressed the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round of the playoffs and Zucker said that performance is a factor in Gortat's decision.
"It is a great potential situation," Zucker said. "It's a team with a great winning tradition, a very good roster and very good character. The team played extremely well in the playoffs and showed incredible spirit against the Lakers. It is a very interesting situation to Marcin."
Another offseason priority for the Rockets is re-signing Ron Artest, who is an unrestricted free agent after earning more than $7 million in a productive first season with Houston. Morey said he has contacted Artest's agent, David Bauman, to open negotiations. Bauman would not comment on the progress so far.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.