One of the hardest things in this league is finding the right price for solid NBA veteran starters. The CBA has made things easier on teams by introducing several provisions that allows GM's to clean up their own mistakes, but this is always a tricky game to play in free agency.
Washington's in a tight spot. One of their free agents is the best center on the market. He doesn't have a ton of mileage on him for your average 30 year old as he played less than 2000 minutes total in his first three seasons. He's durable, and even this year playing 92 games stretched over the regular season and playoffs, he'd play around 32 minutes a night. Wittman sat him for long stretches at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, which meant you rarely saw him gassed at the end of games.
He's also one of the league's best pick and roll men in the league. I'll go as far as saying he's the second most important piece of this offense. He sucks in perimeter defenders with his hard rolls to the rim, which in turn opens up those skip passes from Wall into the corners. Watching the Wizards operate this year as opposed to last is night and day, and you can thank Marcin for it.
Finding the right price for him is tricky. I soured on his rim protection and his inability to pass out of the post as the year wore on, and though he stepped up in the postseason, you have to take the small sample size with a grain of salt. Is he really worth $13 million like David Aldridge projects? Keep in mind this is based on what the Timberwolves and New York Knicks of all teams inked their big men to, but I wouldn't put it past Mark Cuban opening up his pocket books and starting a bidding war.
But now isn't the time for Washington to pull back. Can they really afford to tell John Wall that Gortat's not worth it? Or that they'll be better off in the short term with C-level replacements?
Losing Ariza is more defensible. This wouldn't be the first time he's had a career year before hitting free agency, but then again, this is hardly like 2009. He's never shot the ball this well over such a long stretch in his career, and this dates back to after the All-Star break in 2013 when he shot nearly 42-percent from three in the final three months of the season. I think the improvements he's made as a shooter are real, and while we'll all hedge our bets on him regressing a bit next year like Martell Webster before him, we can still live with him being an above-average shooter that brings it defensively.
Unlike Gortat, Washington does have a solution to all this. Webster had a down year, sure, but who's to say he can't have a career resurgence similar to Ariza? Injuries certainly hampered his play on defense, but he still remains one of the best marksmen from distance. His true-shooting percentages barely waned from a year ago, and this is without mentioning the absolutely dreadful second units he played with at the beginning of the season.
At some point, they'll need to turn Otto Porter loose as well. The last thing they can do is sell low on him, and it will only add fuel to the fire if he prospers elsewhere. If he fails, so be it, but this team needs to give him a real shot.
So what's Ariza worth? I've written in the past that there is room for all three small forwards in Randy Wittman's rotation, but can they really shell out $10 million a year? This is probably his last huge contract, so he'll be looking to cash in, but Ernie and Ted may have to play hardball with him and hope they can keep the length of the contract down to a reasonable amount.
But with the cap steadily rising over the next few years, maybe Washington can afford both over long-term deals as Zach Lowe noted a month ago.
If the cap keeps rising, long-term overpays for Gortat and Ariza this summer might be almost harmless. Contracts used to be longer and carry bigger raises compounded every year. They're shorter now, with smaller maximum raises based on only a percentage of a player's salary in the first season of a new deal. Teams have pushed harder for contracts that decrease in year-over-year salary. The end result: Contracts signed in the present day look less and less damaging in proportion to the rising cap every season out from initial signing.
This won't be an easy decision to make, and it's one without any right or wrong answer. What are your thoughts? What is the absolute most you'd willing to give Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat in free agency?