Posts Tagged ‘Marcin Gortat’

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

Middle class getting rich in free agency

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young for a combined

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young (right) for a combined $39.5 million

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Early into this free-agency period there was hand-wringing over the alleged travesty that superstars commanding the highest salaries were being prodded to take less money for the good of the team.

And certainly under the current salary-cap structure of the collective bargaining agreement, if highly paid players want to band together, but also expect to have funds available to sign quality role players, the price (as dictated by the current salary-cap structure) is settling for less than market value.

James Harden didn’t want to settle so Oklahoma City traded him to Houston. In Miami over the last two weeks, we saw how steep of a cut each of the Big Three (and really Chris Bosh and Dywane Wade) were in for if the group was to stay together and have a legitimate shot at signing a difference-making-type player such as Kyle Lowry or Marcin Gortat.

If superstars opt not to form super powers and the top-tier talent spreads to more teams (the goal of ownership in this CBA) than they can all collect their max money. LeBron James is expected to get his max deal, roughly $21 million next season by leaving Miami for Cleveland. Bosh’s loyalty to the Heat (aided by not having to pay James) was rewarded with a maximum $118 million over five years and Carmelo Anthony will accept a deal close to the max, reportedly about $120 million over five years, from the New York Knicks.

The next tier of talent has also done quite well this summer. Lowry re-upped with Toronto for $48 million over four years, almost doubling last season’s take. Gortat re-signed with Washington for $60 million over five years. He made $7.7 million last season and is 30 years old. Not bad if you can get it.

The Utah Jazz on Saturday matched Charlotte’s aggressive offer sheet of four-years and $63 million for 24-year-old small forward Gordon Hayward. He’ll earn more next season, about $14.7 million, than he did in his previous three seasons combined ($11 million). The Dallas Mavericks have made Chandler Parsons, 25, a rich man with their three-year, $45 million offer sheet that Houston has until Sunday night to match or pass. Neither player has ever been an All-Star, yet both will get paid like one.

It’s theme of the summer. Players at every level of the talent hierarchy are cashing in big. Why? It’s simple: The big fish, as long as they swim their separate ways, are going to get paid, while this league-wide run for cap space has greatly inflated salaries for a widening middle class. It’s produced eye-opening contracts such as these: Jodie Meeks (Detroit), three years and $19 million; Jordan Hill (L.A. Lakers), two years and $18 million; Darren Collison (Sacramento), three years and $16 million; Nick Young (L.A. Lakers), four years and $21.5 million; Chris Kaman (Portland), two years and $9.8 million; C.J. Miles (Indiana), four years and $18 million; Ben Gordon (Orlando), two years and $9.8 million.

The CBA hammered out during the lockout of 2011 placed a premium on cap space. Harsher luxury tax penalties and tighter controls designed to restrict roster flexibility for tax teams has created a much larger pool of teams than ever before that strategically plan to create maximum cap space each summer to dive into free agency and chase max-level free agents.

Only there aren’t that many big fish, far fewer than there are now teams ready to pay team. It leaves an overload of cap space around the league that must be spent and this summer role players — the league’s middle class — are reaping the benefits.

Any player it seems who has been in the league a handful of years can turn his nose at any offer starting at less than $4 million. Thirty-seven-year-old Vince Carter wanted to return to Dallas, which was offering $2.73 million for next season. So he took the $4 million ($12.2 million over three seasons) Memphis showed him.

And then there’s free-agent shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha coming off an awful year shooting and who twice fell out of the Thunder’s rotation during the playoffs. He secured a raise from Atlanta — three years and $12 million.

Uncertainty reigns for ‘Melo, LeBron


VIDEO: ‘Melo has to choose between the Knicks and Lakers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Smoke, mirrors, rumor, innuendo and uncertainty have ruled the day since free agency began for the biggest names on the market.

With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.

The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.

Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.

Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.

With Omer Asik traded and Dwight Howard in need of an elite power forward to play alongside him, the Rockets have turned their attention to trying to pry Bosh away from the Heat while there is continued uncertainty about what LeBron will do. It makes perfect sense for the Rockets — divide and conquer while strengthening their own ranks with yet another All-Star piece .

The dots connect ultimately back to both Carmelo and LeBron in almost every theoretical scenario.

What if the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade went into the process thinking they’d work in concert and allow Riley and the Heat the time needed to work out the details, only to have things change dramatically when it became clear that their individual salary demands and future plans don’t coincide with what the Heat had in mind?

What if the Knicks’ ace in the hole with ‘Melo — that max offer of $129 million that they could offer that no one else could — isn’t enough to keep the face of that franchise in the fold?

That proposed Big Four pipe dream Riley spoke of the week before free agency began appears to be just that for Heat fans, an absolute pipe dream. If the machinations of the past few days aren’t just the hype that comes along with the process for superstars in free agency, keeping the Big Three together could wind up being the real pipe dream.

The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.

If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.

If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.

This growing notion that Anthony is choosing between the Lakers and Knicks means that the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets, Phoenix Suns and anyone else positioning themselves as a suitor for the biggest name(s) on the free-agent market would be wise to move on to their alternate plans.

Finding elite role players willing to sacrifice their monster paydays for the greater good in Miami proved more difficult than probably even Riley imagined, given the uncertainty surrounding James, whose commitment might have sped up the process for Riley and the Heat in regards to their pursuit of guys like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.

They have both agreed to terms on lucrative deals to remain with their respective teams, the Toronto Raptors for Lowry and Washington Wizards for Gortat.

And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.

You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.

Morning Shootaround — July 6


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge reports the latest free-agent news

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers make move for Melo | Heat meet with Deng | Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call | Novak traded to Jazz

No. 1: Lakers make move for Melo — In the earliest days of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be the odd team out, as free agents and reps for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met with and considered various franchises, from Chicago to Miami to Houston to Dallas, not to mention the incumbents — the Knicks and the Heat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with just a handful of players under contract and significant room to maneuver under the luxury tax.

But you can never count the Lake Show out. While many reports had Melo choosing between the Knicks and Bulls, last night Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are definitely in the picture. After his meeting with Lakers execs, reports are that Carmelo is absolutely considering a move to the coast, to join Kobe Bryant in a west side connection…

The Los Angeles Lakers have ascended into serious contention to sign New York free agent Carmelo Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers moved into strong consideration with the front-running New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over this weekend, sources told Yahoo Sports.

No one with direct knowledge of the process would declare the Lakers had overtaken New York and Chicago in Anthony’s mind, but one source close to Anthony said of the Lakers, “They’re in the game now.”

The Lakers met with Anthony on Friday, offering him a four-year, $97 million contract. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has been in constant contact with Anthony, and the Lakers could re-sign Pau Gasol to pair with Anthony on the frontline.

This story kicked off when ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted via Twitter…

Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would mean him leaving over $30 million from the Knicks on the table — as his former team, the Knicks can offer Anthony a larger and longer contract than any other team. There’s also the question of whether a pairing of Anthony and Bryant (with Gasol) in the rough-and-ready Western Conference would give Anthony the best and quickest chance to win.

Whatever happens, after weeks of speculation and simmering, free agency is finally reaching the boiling point. Get your popcorn ready.

***

No. 2: Heat meet with Deng — While several NBA teams are loaded with cap space, the Miami Heat are still a work in progress. While James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out of their contracts and seemed interested in returning, the path forward for the Heat has seemed less clear, both in terms of financials and personnel. With an aging roster and burgeoning payroll, the Heat have to find a way to get their Big Three some help, without breaking the bank.

Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, Heat president Pat Riley took another step forward by meeting with one of the top free agents on the market, Luol Deng

The meeting was described as “preliminary,” according to a source, as Riley attempted to sell Deng on the benefits of joining the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that Deng will not take a salary significantly below his market value, believed to be above $10 million annually, merely to sign with the Heat.

Deng has several suitors, including Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a source said Riley’s pitch intrigued him.

Adding Deng would give the Heat experience, depth, and help on both ends of the court. It may also be something of a dream — can the Heat actually create enough room to make Deng an offer he can’t refuse?

The task facing Riley and the Heat is anything but easy. But then, the best things very rarely are. Four seasons ago, Riley defied many expectations when he successfully constructed the Big Three. Now he’s got a different kind of difficult task ahead of him.

***

No. 3: Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call — Not long before last season began, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick along with the rights to injured center Emeka Okafor in exchange for Marcin Gortat. While Gortat has always been a solid interior performer, he was going to be a free agent this summer, and the Wizards were gambling they’d be able to convince him to re-sign in D.C. After showing promise during the regular season and making a run into the second round of the playoffs, Gortat felt confident enough in the future of the Wizards to stick around.

In an interview yesterday from Orlando Summer League on NBA TV, Gortat said re-upping with Washington was a simple decision

“A lot of different reasons,” Gortat said, when asked why he elected to stay with the Wizards. “First of all, I like the city. I like the team. I definitely feel comfortable over there. The team really took me under the wing and they help me since the day one. I definitely love the chemistry between me and John Wall. I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great player one day. Coach Randy [Wittman] believes in me, and I have a great relationship with him. So, the decision was real easy for me. I believe that we will be a special team for the next four or five years.”

Gortat was asked about interest from the Miami Heat and bobbed his head side to side, “We had a few teams, but I don’t think it [makes] any sense to talk about that now.”

If they’re planning to get the entire band back together, the Wizards still have to convince Trevor Ariza to re-sign — and as an in-demand swingman, Ariza may take a little more convincing than Gortat.

***

No. 4: Jazz trade for Novak — Sweet-shooting swingman Steve Novak spent the last few seasons knocking down 3-pointers for the Knicks and the Raptors. While out enjoying the 4th of July holiday with his family in his hometown of Milwaukee, Novak found out he would have a new NBA home next season: The Raptors reportedly agreed to move Novak to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who the Raptors could waive to create salary cap space.

One of the interesting bits of this story is how Novak discovered he was being traded: According to the Desert News, Novak found out via a series of text messages from his Toronto teammate Kyle Lowry

Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”

Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?

What!?!

“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”

The gift and the curse for Novak is his combination of shooting and size (he is 6-10) simultaneously makes him a hot commodity and a tradeable asset. For his part, Novak seems to be embracing his new home…

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The long wait to see Nerlens Noel in a Sixers uniform may have been worth every second … If the Rockets need to move Jeremy Lin to create cap space, Philadelphia might be an option … You know who’s not happy about players being asked to take pay cuts? Their agents and their union. … Looks like Devin Harris will agree to a three-year extension with the Mavericks …

Big year and a bigger decision for Lowry


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is one of the more coveted free agent point guards on the market

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Kyle Lowry faces the decision of his career: Cash in with the Raptors and maybe one day walk away a Canadian folk hero (you saw those crazed playoff crowds, right?), have faith in the leaky, but legendary Lakers or settle for a mere pittance to play with the King.

But wait, there’s more …

To start free agency at the stroke of midnight Tuesday, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale were in Philadelphia seated in front of Lowry. The two men who shipped Lowry north of the border in the first place were now telling him how perfect he is for the team he actually aided in assembling.

Plotting a path to form a super team in Houston, Morey was hoarding drafts picks and the first-rounder he got from Toronto for Lowry two summers ago was supposed to be another carrot to finally lure Orlando into a deal for Dwight Howard. A month later Howard was traded to the Lakers, and the draft pick wound up in Oklahoma City as part of the package for James Harden. Howard, conveniently, followed as a free-agent acquisition last summer.

As Morey, McHale and Lowry dined, or whatever it is that goes on in these after-midnight meetings, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was working his own plan (reportedly a contract starting around $12 million) to keep the spark plug point guard behind Toronto’s resurgence, a spark plug Ujiri was prepared to trade to New York at the deadline if not for the reluctance of the  Knicks’ former regime to throw in a future first-round draft pick.

Meanwhile, back in South Florida, Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley was maneuvering for his own meeting with free agency’s top point-guard target. The Riley pitch, if he gets to make it, will get straight to the point: Come to Sacrifice City and compete for these shiny rings with LeBron James.

Amazing what a career year will do for a guy’s fortunes. Lowry, not long ago down on his luck, last season averaged career highs in scoring (17.9 ppg), assists (7.4), minutes (36.2) and 3-point percentage (38.0), while tying his career-high in rebounds (4.7).

Many believed Lowry, 28, should have made his first All-Star team of his eight-year career. After the All-Star break he reinforced that notion by averaging 20.4 ppg, 7.1 apg and 5.1 rpg, while maintaining his bulldog approach to defense. The Raptors finished the season 20-10 and won a franchise-best 48 games, finishing above .500 for the first time since 2006-07.

So perhaps a contract starting at $12 million isn’t too high for this big-market franchise desperate to maintain its playmaker and elusive momentum.

Yet becoming just as desperate are the Miami Heat.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are free agents, too. They’re waiting to finalize new contracts while Riley works to re-tool the roster. Big men, wing depth and a point guard are needed. On Tuesday, Heat target Marcin Gortat reached an agreement to return to the Washington Wizards at a price (five years, $60 million) far too rich for the Heat. Another report stated small forward Luol Deng will not sacrifice pay to play for Miami. A later report had Washington nearing a deal to bring back yet another Heat target, small forward Trevor Ariza.

The aggressive, 6-foot Lowry fits the Heat needs to a T. Only they won’t be able to match the Raptors’ reported offer and fill other needs. Earlier Tuesday, Jodie Meeks agreed to a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons for three years and $19 million, a hefty pay raise for a middling player, and one that would make it seem highly unlikely that Lowry could feel good about taking a deal that wouldn’t pay him much more.

The wild card here, as it always is with the Heat, is a lower pay grade is the price to play with LeBron. We’ve seen it with players nearing the end of their careers, but not necessarily from one in his prime.

Lowry has seven postseason games to his name since 2009 back with Houston when he reached the second round. All seven came this past season with Toronto. The Raptors, boasting an emerging star in DeMar DeRozan and rising talents in Terrence RossJonas Valanciunas and restricted free agent Patrick Pattersonlost a heartbreaker to Brooklyn in the first round.

For a franchise that has experienced two winning seasons in the last dozen, and has had its troubles keeping and recruiting star-level players, Lowry would be welcomed back as hero.

But then there’s always LeBron … or the Rockets … or the Lakers …

The decision of Lowry’s career will be coming soon.

Report: Wizards, Gortat agree to $60 million deal


VIDEO: John Wall is glad to have Marcin Gortat back in the fold in Washington

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Teams hunting for a quality big man on the free agent market can cross Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat off of the wish list. Gortat and the Wizards have agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal, according to multiple reports.

Gortat is one of two priority unrestricted free agents for the Wizards, who are also trying to keep Trevor Ariza in the fold (as All-Star point guard John Wall mentioned above).

Gortat played a huge role in the Wizards’ playoff run last season, averaging 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds for a surprise team that made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Five free agents that just can’t get away

Eric Bledsoe's potential departure from Phoenix would be a big blow to the franchise.

For the Suns to keep rising, they must re-sign the tough, spry Eric Bledsoe (left).

Most teams go into the free agency period saying they have every intention of hanging onto their players. They value them. They respect them. They’re ready to pony up and reward them. Truth is, in some cases, they can’t afford to let players that have become an integral part of the team and their identity walk out the door. It goes without saying that the Heat are all in to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So putting them aside, here’s the top handful of free agents that are just too valuable to let get away:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Knicks (unrestricted) — The new boss of Madison Square Garden Phil Jackson can keep trying to play hard ball and insist that Anthony accept less than a maximum level contract this season. But that truth is the Knicks need Anthony far more than he needs them. His options are many, from joining the Bulls or Rockets to try to lift them to the elite level, becoming another Hollywood star with the Lakers or even going to Miami to raise the temperature with the Heat. The Knicks’ options, if ‘Melo bolts, might include just leaving the ice down permanently at the Garden and letting the NHL Rangers play twice as many home games. Since LeBron has opted out this summer, the fantasy of chasing the game’s biggest name and best player will go back on hold in New York for another several years. The Knicks don’t have the assets to swing a deal for Kevin Love. They have a new coach in Derek Fisher. The declining Amar’e Stoudemire handcuffed the team further by deciding to opt in for $23.4 million. By keeping Anthony, the Knicks give fans a reason to show up or turn on the TV. Without him, they’re irrelevant.

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Suns (restricted) — Never mind that they picked up rookie Tyler Ennis on draft night. When he was healthy for 43 games last season, Bledsoe was a difference-maker and likely could have lifted Phoenix into the playoffs if he’d been around for the full season. Though there might be a few who’d question his durability, Bledsoe is a 24-year-old sheer talent with a very high upside. He and backcourt partner Goran Dragic can both slide over to play shooting guard. But it’s running the show as a 1 where Bledsoe has the potential to carry the Suns into the future and could even crack the All-Star lineup in a very crowded Western Conference backcourt race. General manager Ryan McDonough has vowed to match any offer that comes his way. Bledsoe needs to be the foundation on what the Suns are building in the desert.

Boris Diaw, Forward/Center, Spurs (unrestricted) — You almost never want to tell the Spurs that one individual not named Tim Duncan means so much, especially after they’ve just picked up championship No. 5 by demonstrating that the team concept can outshine superstars by a wide margin in The Finals. But the point-guard-in-a-big-man’s-body Diaw was a very large part of that accomplishment, shifting the balance of power in the series against the Heat when he moved into the starting lineup. There was a great deal of talk on Draft night that the Spurs got the next Diaw-type player in forward Kyle Anderson. But this is a team where the clock is ticking loud and the championship contending days for this bunch will come to an end in another year or two at the most. Anderson will be fine for the next generation, but the Spurs need their crafty passer, good rebounder and underrated defender to stick around in order to have a shot at hanging up banner No. 6.

Marcin Gortat, Center, Wizards (unrestricted) — Yes, the Wizards will have to overpay, but that’s just a fact of life when you’re talking about a big man. Especially when it’s a big man coming off a season of averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and anchoring the front court on a team that is built around guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Gortat is simply solid at both ends of the ball, helping with the efficiency of the offense and stepping up to the play the role of large body stopper at the other end of the floor. In short, he just fits. Plus, the 30-year-old gives Washington a veteran’s sense of perspective. If it comes down to a choice between Gortat and fellow free agent Trevor Ariza, it’s really no choice at all. While Ariza’s defense on the perimeter and streaky offense are nice to have around, the big man keeps everyone grounded and gives the Wizards credibility in the East.

Lance Stephenson, Guard, Pacers (unrestricted) — Was it the moment that he blew in LeBron’s ear? Or when he gave the King that little chuck on the chin? At some point during the Eastern Conference finals virtually everybody leaned in a little closer to the HDTV screen and asked: “What in the world is Lance thinking?” Of course, the answer might have been nothing at all. Surely, the Pacers will have to think long and hard about how far they’re willing to open the wallet for a 23-year-old with a crazy streak. But that’s just it — Stephenson is just 23 and if club president Larry Bird can eventually get through to a player who has been a personal favorite, this team finally reaches its potential. If they let Stephenson get away, the Pacers are giving up part of their identity, their edge and simply take a step back into the soft middle of the standings. Yes, he’s a risk. Yes, he’s going to be infuriating. But yes, Indiana has to keep him.

What can the Heat offer free agents?


VIDEO: Wade opts out

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now Chris Bosh have informed the Miami Heat that they will exercise the early termination options on their contracts, ending what were six-years deals after four seasons.

In addition, Udonis Haslem, has declined his $4.3 million player option.

Nine days ago, Pat Riley made it clear that he’d like his three All-Stars to take less money to help him retool the roster. On Tuesday, James put added pressure on Bosh and Wade by opting out of his deal. Now, it looks like things are falling into place and Riley will have the opportunity to upgrade the other two positions in his starting lineup.

Rumored targets for the Heat include point guard Kyle Lowry, forward Trevor Ariza and center Marcin Gortat. All have tools (ball-handling, defense, size) that would certainly help Miami. The idea of adding Carmelo Anthony seems far-fetched, but it all depends on how much money he’s willing to sacrifice, as well as how much Miami’s Big Three are willing to sacrifice.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that James is seeking a max contract, which would be a five-year deal worth about $120 million. So it would apparently be Bosh and Wade who would have to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted that Bosh is seeking a new five-year deal worth $15-16 million per year. Those two reports (as well as the assumption that Wade isn’t going to take less than Bosh) gives us the framework of the Heat’s salary math, with an expected salary cap of $63.2 million …

Heat salary math

Player 2014-15 Notes
1 James, LeBron $20,020,875 Cap hold
2 Bosh, Chris $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
3 Wade, Dwyane $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
4 Cole, Norris $2,038,206 Under contract
5 Andersen, Chris $915,243 Cap hold
6 Napier, Shabazz $1,032,200 Cap hold
7-11 Cap hold x 5 $2,536,680 Cap hold
TOTAL $52,630,161
Salary cap $63,200,000
Left for free agent $10,569,839 4-year deal for $45.1 million

1. James’ max contract would start at about $20.8 million. Since his cap hold (1.05 x last year’s salary) is a little less than that, the Heat would use that number until the other pieces are signed. Then they can go over the salary cap to re-sign James.

2 and 3. If Bosh and Wade both accept five-year deals worth $75 million ($15 million per year), those contracts would have starting salaries of just over $13 million.

4. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Heat are looking to unload Norris Cole. If they do that (and don’t get another player in return), his $2.0 million would be replaced by another rookie minimum cap hold (see 7-11) and they’d have an additional $1.5 million of cap space.

5. The Heat could renounce the rights to Chris Andersen, but he has just a vet’s minimum cap hold. Keeping that would allow them to sign him for much more after they’re back over the salary cap.

6. The Heat can pay Shabazz Napier 120 percent of the rookie scale for the No. 24 pick. As with James, better to keep the cap hold number until the other pieces are signed.

7-11. If you don’t have 12 guys on your roster, there is a rookie minimum cap hold ($507,336) for every slot that takes you up to 12. So, if we’re talking about James, Bosh, Wade, Cole, Andersen, Napier and one free agent, we need five minimum cap holds.

Additional note: In this scenario, the Heat have renounced their rights to Haslem, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, and Greg Oden, and have also waived Justin Hamilton (who has a non-guaranteed deal). It’s assumed that Haslem will get rewarded for opting out (with a long-term deal that pays him more than the $4.3 million he could have earned next season), and Allen is a critical piece in the rotation, but their cap holds ($8.2 million and $4.2 million) are too big to keep on the books.

After the Heat have gone over the cap, they can use the room exception (starting at $2.7 million) to bring one or more of those guys back (or add other free agents). It can be split among multiple players. After that, they’d have only minimum deals to offer players.

If all the above holds, the Heat could offer one free agent $45.1 million over four years ($11.3 million per year). If they are able to trade Cole, that would turn into $51.7 million over four years ($12.9 million per year).

That’s still about half of what Anthony could earn elsewhere. If he were to re-sign with the Knicks for the max, he’d get $129.1 million over five years ($25.8 per year). If he were to sign with a new team for the max, he’d get $95.9 million over four years ($24.0 million per year).

So Lowry, Ariza and Gortat are obviously more realistic options. If the Heat were to split their cap space among two free agents (assuming they traded Cole), they could offer them a total of about $13.5 million per year. Ariza and Gortat each made $7.7 million for the Wizards this past season, while Lowry made $6.2 million for the Raptors.

Both Gortat and Lowry will likely be offered raises from their current teams, who are both looking to keep the momentum going after returning to the postseason after long layoffs. With Martell Webster and Otto Porter on the roster, the Wizards might not fight hard for Ariza, but he could still get more than mid-level money elsewhere, as one of the better three-and-D guys in the league and still just 29 years old.

So there’s no clear starting-lineup upgrade for the Heat. But if James accepts less than the max or if Bosh and/or Wade accept less than $15 million per year, there’s more money to spend. And since they’re also offering a chance to play with the best player in the world for a championship on Biscayne Bay, they may not have to spend as much as other teams.