Portland has a strange way of doing things in recent memory. Whether it was offering an insane RFA contract to Hedo Turkoglu in 2009 or drafting Nolan Smith, the organization has come up with some head-scratchers.
As I wrote about last month, an equally disappointing rumor being floated is the Blazers’ interest (read: Paul Allen) in upcoming Minnesota Timberwolves RFA Nikola Pekovic. Outlined in that article is the awful contract that Pekovic could demand (upwards of 4 YRS/$67MM) and the bind it would place Portland in regarding salary cap and future growth of a young core.
So where are the Blazers to turn?
Marcin Gortat has been languishing in Robert Sarver’s under-financed organization all year and we’re well aware of his unhappiness. Meanwhile, if the Blazers are looking for a starting center — and by all accounts, they are — that would match Pekovic’s production, Gortat might be an option to look at. While Gortat is not the scorer that Pek is, he’s a better post defender and rebounder. Perhaps most importantly, both players have similar numbers when it comes to scoring efficiency in the post, and both can run the floor. The Blazers need another viable post option as part of their offense and Gortat would be able to provide a low-post threat.
While Pekovic will command a large contract due to his age and production, Gortat currently makes just $7.2 million — what amounts to half of what Pekovic is estimated to get paid. On top of that, Gortat will be much easier for the Blazers to get. The Timberwolves are sure to wait until the last minute to match an offer for Pek, putting Portland in free agency limbo. There’s no indication that Sarver wants to keep Gortat on the Suns roster as part of the rebuilding process, and when his contract is up in two years he won’t be looking to negotiate in the $10 – $11 million range for a 30+ year-old center. The Blazers? That’s another story.
While the Suns try to rebuild, they need stable pieces that aren’t looking for a big payday that will produce despite the slow development. By some accounts, Portland will need to find somewhere else for Wesley Matthews this summer depending on long-term strategy and in preparation for the draft. While Matthews makes less than Gortat, it’s not by much and it’s enough to make the trade work cap-wise. Matthews would provide solid, unselfish guard play for the Suns and act as a huge upgrade from Shannon Brown, who has been a hobo in a riot this year in Phoenix. He is, however, still Shannon Brown.
A package consisting of Matthews and one of Portland’s stockpiled second round draft picks should be enough to get Gortat out of Phoenix and onto a winning team, which the Blazers are sure to be in 2013-2014. Even further, the Blazers are far more likely to want to pony up to pay Gortat when his contract expires for a reasonable price (say around 3 YRS/$32.25MM), especially when Pekovic’s price tag could be astronomical. As a refresher, here’s what the next four years could look like salary-wise for Pek and Gortat:
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Total|
|$15.7 MM||$16.5 MM||$17.1 MM||$17.9 MM||$67.2 MM|
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Total|
|$7.7 MM||$10 MM||$10.75 MM||$11.5 MM||$39.9 MM|
Of course, the elephant in the room is age. While Pek is only in his third year, Gortat is in his sixth year and will be on the wrong side of 30 by the time he’s ready for a new deal. Obviously, Pek is going to be more productive than Gortat, and there’s no questioning that. But at what price?
Gortat, even if he plays well, isn’t getting paid more than Joakin Noah, and especially not at the age of 31. With the extra $27 million Portland would have left over from signing Gortat instead of Pek, they could sign another starter or bench player outright. Even further, while Pek is a better player than Gortat, is he that much better than Gortat? It’s all well and good to make bear tattoo jokes, but I don’t think he is.
Gortat is a valuable piece that someone is going to snap up from Phoenix. For a severely reduced price, Portland could get 90% of the production of Nikola Pekovic while only paying 60% of the salary. What the Blazers need is room for their young talent to grow and a bench. Trading for Marcin Gortat does that. Signing Pek?
Well, that just continues the spat between Paul Allen and the Timberwolves.
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