There are bad days, and then there are days where your prized free agent centers are pried from your fingers. The latter is a bit more rare, but nonetheless accurately describes the maelstrom that has drowned the hopes of the 2009-2010 Mavs.
In a sense, Marcin Gortat would have been a luxury for the Mavs. This team has no shortage in talent, and will even be able to bring a top-notch scorer off the bench as a sixth man. There are two guaranteed locks for the Hall, two former All-Stars, and a serviceable center in the starting five. The Mavs won’t fall to the bottom of the standings without Marcin Gortat, and frankly he’s not the type of player to single-handedly elevate the Mavs to contender status.
But when you evaluate a potential Gortat acquisition in the context of the rest of the summer’s moves (notably the Shawn Marion trade), the Mavs were positioned to make a serious run this season while assembling pieces as part of a long-term plan. In Gortat, the Mavs had seemingly found a high-quality center at a perfectly reasonable price. He was to be a Mav for the next half-decade, rocking rims until Erick Dampier was but a distant memory. Marcin fit seamlessly into the Mavs’ future alongside point guard Rodrigue Beaubois, together forming a two-man foundation to one day relieve Dirk Nowitzki of superstar pressures. Neither player is a sure-thing for stardom, but the Mavs had found “their guys” at the most difficult positions to fill on the floor. That’s something.
Otis Smith apparently had other plans. For the Mavs, the implications of Smith’s decision to retain Gortat are numerous and devastating. Not only do they now have no established insurance policy for Erick Dampier, but face a huge hole if Dampier’s expiring contract is utilized in any sort of interesting way. If the Mavs choose to cash in on Erick Dampier during the upcoming season, they’re faced with the harsh reality of relying on Dirk Nowitzki and likely Ryan Hollins for the majority of the minutes at center. If, as discussed, the Mavs wait to move Dampier until the free agent gauntlet of 2010, then the current team is really only a slight upgrade over the previous model. Adding Shawn Marion is a definite improvement, but with Josh Howard’s questionable ability to defend shooting guards on shoddy ankles and very little depth up front, the Mavs as currently assembled can’t claim to be in the running for anything notable.
From the Magic perspective, the move seems to make plenty of sense and absolutely none whatsoever. Losing a free agent with no compensation can be crippling to a franchise, especially one just a few games short of a championship. It’s not that Orlando needs Gortat specifically, but they may not be able to afford letting him walk. The off-season arms race has seen the rich in both conferences get richer, and while the Mavs are trying to keep pace with the Spurs and Lakers, the Magic are fighting to stay with the Cavaliers and the Celtics. I seriously doubt that Marcin will work into Orlando’s long-term plan (which is why he is “very, very disappointed,”), but this isn’t about what is best for Gortat. This is about what’s best for the Orlando Magic organization, and you cannot fault Otis Smith for doing his job.
I’d still like to throw some less amicable names Smith’s way though, if only because these circumstances are so bizarre. The Mavs and the Magic have essentially worked together twice this summer, first in the deal that brought Marion to the Mavs and a huge trade exception to the Magic, and second in the signing of Brandon Bass. While the Mavs didn’t exactly grant Bass on a silver platter, it was incredibly clear that the Mavs’ position on Bass was largely contingent on acquiring Marcin Gortat. One could certainly blame Donnie Nelson or Mark Cuban for counting their chickens before they hatched, but the whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Bass was looking to fill his pockets and log some floor time, and while the contract he signed with the Magic is certainly fair value for his skills and upside, I’d love to hear his take on this latest turn of events. Bass was rumored to be coming off the bench prior to Gortat’s “return,” and now his role and minutes are likely to be decreased further by adding another big man.
On top of complications with Bass’ situation, the Magic will also find themselves in luxury tax territory, which is especially notable because of Orlando’s relatively small market status. Orlando will need to shed salary in order to avoid paying some serious tax dollars, and will be virtually unable to trade Gortat due to his status as a base year compensation player. John Hollinger also noted that the Magic are unable to trade Gortat to the Mavs for a year. Lovely.
This is not easy to swallow. The Mavs have lost out on a quality center so that last year’s Eastern Conference champions could cut their losses while possibly betraying the trust of former Maverick Brandon Bass. As with all things, this initial disappointment will pass. The Mavs still have plenty of time to make the appropriate adjustments in their off-season playbooks, and proceed accordingly. But the ‘Gortat Incident’ may serve as a constant reminder that while the Mavs have plenty of things going right for them this off-season, those with wealth also have plenty to lose.