Marcin Gortat's new five-year, $60 million deal really shouldn't surprise anyone. The Wizards were on a collision course to this point since last October, when they surrendered a premium asset to acquire Gortat in a trade with Phoenix.
The best-case scenario was always that Gortat would help lead the Wizards to a playoff berth, then hit the open market. And when he hit the open market, the Wizards were always going to find themselves between the rock and the hard place that tends to lead to the kind of big contract that would soon come next.
What happened last year? Better than best-case scenario, at least in terms of team success. Gortat was a consistent contributor, the Wizards made the second round of the playoffs and there was goodwill all around. And so, Gortat obviously hit the open market, a tiny supply of bigs met massive Wizards demand to keep their playoff team together, and you get this kind of contract. This is basic economics.
There's going to be a lot of talk about what Gortat is worth, leverage, vacuums and the like. Before we get there, let's acknowledge that Gortat is a very good player that fits what the Wizards are trying to do in the short term. He was an essential player in their lineups last year; the Wizards were 4.8 points better per 100 possessions with him in and 6.9 points per 100 possessions worse with him out.
He's an analytics center in many ways, succeeding in ways that could age well. His pick and roll finishing ability rated highly in the Wizards' systems even before they acquired him and continued to be excellent last season. So much of John Wall's on-court maturity came because he finally had a pick and roll partner worth squat. His screen-setting is extremely underrated; very few big men are better at advanced pick variations like rescreening, flipping screens and the like. He's a strong defensive rebounder, and while he's not a great rim protector, he's competent and is generally in the right spots.
He has his faults, but he's also better than what meets the eye. Throw in his strong chemistry with this existing group, and you can see why he's valuable.
Whether he's "worth" five years and $60 million is an obvious follow-up, but it's also not the best framing of the issue. The free agent moratorium is a chaotic place, with leverage best measured by risk rather than specific bids. Could Gortat have received a comparable offer elsewhere had he left the Wizards' front office without a verbal commitment? Without sitting in on these negotiations, we have no clue, and after-the-fact leaks on both sides won't give us the full story either. Even those involved didn't know either because they couldn't get inside other teams' heads.
Ultimately, the choice was made to present this contract and eliminate any risk of bruised feelings. Thus, you get a number that is attached to a player for the duration of his contract, one that's always unfair given that the circumstances of each negotiation are different. Remember: these are humans, not robots, on both sides of the table. It's easy to say that bigger fish should be a priority, but even I admit that's a lot harder to act upon.
At the same time, this was a situation that the Wizards surely anticipated. Unrestricted free agency leaves any team powerless to some degree. It especially removes power from a team when dealing with the best center on the market after as strong a year as they reasonably could have expected. It is indeed true that, while Gortat may not be worth $12 million or five years as a 30-year-old center in a vacuum, we aren't in a vacuum.
But this vacuum-less world was something the Wizards assumed in last October's deal, much like someone purchasing a business may assume unreported debt. If Gortat played well, he'd be in high demand, and the shallow Wizards frontcourt -- remember, this is why Gortat was acquired in the first place -- would need him even more. Yes, the Wizards had no leverage in this situation, which explains why Ernie Grunfeld reportedly relented on that fifth year so quickly. But they also traded for Gortat knowing (or at least they should have known) they'd back themselves into this corner.
It's highly likely they knew and took the plunge anyway, thinking that last year's success and the beginning of this deal would be worth it. Hopefully they're right, because the later years of this deal will likely be painful. The degree to which that pain will be felt depends on other moves and the rising salary cap, but no team should feel totally comfortable paying a 35-year-old player as much as the Wizards will pay Gortat.
That the Wizards did it though is not a surprise, because all signs were pointing in that direction since last October. Now, everyone must hope Gortat ages gracefully.