Wizards' Marcin Gortat Extension Dwindles Free-Agent Center Pool for Miami Heat

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Wizards' Marcin Gortat Extension Dwindles Free-Agent Center Pool for Miami Heat
J Pat Carter/Associated Press

It seems like only yesterday that the Miami Heat were poised to beef up their roster around LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

That's probably because that (pretty much) was yesterday. 

Less than 24 hours after the NBA officially opened its free-agency floodgates for the summer, the Heat saw Marcin Gortat, one of their top targets at center, taken off the market. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Gortat will sign a five-year, $60 million deal to stay with the Washington Wizards once the league's early-summer moratorium on official business is lifted later this month.

The Heat would've had some difficulty managing that sort of contract with Gortat, even if Wade and Bosh re-sign for salaries in the $11-12 million range for their first year, as reported by The Oregonian's John Canzano. Henry Thomas, the agent that Wade and Bosh share, was quick to shoot down that possibility (via NBA.com's David Aldridge):

For what it's worth, Miami could barely fit in an edgewise word with Gortat, who, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, was "focused on staying in Washington."

And so he will, thereby leaving the Heat to scrounge through the leftovers up front among this year's rapidly thinning class of free agents.

The options hardly seem like those befitting a once-and-future title contender. Pau Gasol would've made more sense three years ago, before age (he turns 34 on July 6), injuries and constant clashes with Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni took their toll on his game and his health, both physically and mentally. Still, that didn't stop Heat president Pat Riley from putting in a call to Gasol on the first day of free agency, per Woj.

But what choice did Riles really have? The quality of available bigs drops off considerably after Gortat and Gasol.

Greg Monroe is the next best thing, but he figures to fall outside of Miami's price range, which the team is telling free agents could creep as high as $12 million, according to ESPN. As noted by ESPN's Marc Stein, the Detroit Pistons have made it clear they intend to match any offer sheet that comes Monroe's way in restricted free agency. The mere extension of an offer sheet by Miami would tie up the Heat's cap space for as many as 72 hours—a dangerous proposition if the team doesn't want to lose out on other options in the meantime.

And it's not as though Monroe would provide the combination of perimeter shooting and rim protection that'd fit so snugly into the infrastructure head coach Erik Spoelstra installed and refined over the last two-plus seasons.

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

If those are, indeed, the Heat's priorities, Riley would do well to reach out to Spencer Hawes and Channing Frye to fill out the frontcourt rotation. Neither could come close to claiming to be an above-average interior defender, but both are more than passable as three-point shooters; Hawes hit a career-high 41.6 percent of his treys last season, including 44.8 percent after he was dealt from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Frye bounced back from a career-threatening heart condition to knock down 37 percent of his long-range looks.

Better yet, the Heat could probably afford whichever one they'd prefer. According to the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, Hawes is searching for a contract in the ballpark of $8 million per year. Frye, who's nearly five years older than Hawes and will be forever hounded by health concerns, could probably be had for less than that, especially now that Shaun Livingston's new deal has all but taken the Golden State Warriors out of the running. 

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It's entirely possible, too, that Hawes and Frye will fall outside of Miami's financial capabilities. According to Yahoo Sports, the Heat are hot after Kyle Lowry and Luol Deng at the moment. Either one would probably sop up on his own all of the cap space that Riley seems to think he'll soon have at his disposal, thanks to the flexibility of his superstars (and, to a lesser extent, Udonis Haslem).

That doesn't mean, though, that Miami will be fresh out of luck in its search for big men should it spend a lot on a point guard or a wing. As Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out:

They also don’t have to go under the cap at all. If they stay over it, the Heat will have the full midlevel exception, which allows them to offer a contract starting at nearly $5.5 million per season. That might be larger than the cap space they’d open up, and thus a more attractive chip on the open market.

Frye might be available at the mid-level. Kris Humphries almost certainly will be. So, too, should Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Jason Smith and Chris Kaman.

Of course, nobody's about to ditch their towels and swimsuits on South Beach in excitement over any of these prospective signings. Nor is there any indication that the Heat have yet reached out to any centers aside from Gortat and Gasol.

Barring the acquisition of a big-time pivot, the Heat wouldn't be remiss if they didn't rush to stock up on tall guys. Remember, this team didn't truly hit its stride until "small ball" became a thing during the 2012 playoffs. It also managed to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2013 and emerge from the mess of the Eastern Conference in 2014 without any meaningful additions up front other than Chris Andersen, who was a midseason scrap-heap signing to begin with.

You could forgive Riley, then, if his search for size proceeds without much urgency.

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

But it might yet. Free agency is a fast process nowadays, but it's only just begun.

And if the Heat know what's good for 'em, they'll address their deficiencies in the middle in some meaningful way before the start of the 2014-15 season. As important as it is for Miami to find someone to ease the ball-handling and scoring burdens of James and Wade on the perimeter, it's just as crucial that the Heat lend Bosh a helping hand with his usual rebounding and shot-challenging duties on the defensive end.

That is, if Miami's five-game mauling at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals is any indication. According to NBA.com, the Spurs converted an astounding 68.5 percent of their shots in the restricted area, which, in turn, constituted nearly a third (30.7 percent to be exact) of their total attempts in the series.

Responsibility for those unsightly stats doesn't rest solely on Miami's lack of size. The Heat's perimeter defenders didn't do much to keep San Antonio's passers and penetrators out of the paint.

In the bigger picture, though, the Heat would be hard-pressed to become just the second team in NBA history to advance to five straight Finals—much less emerge victorious next June—without an upgrade or two up front.

But Riley and company had better act quickly. Otherwise, the market for big men could dry up before the ink on the Big Three's new contracts does.

 

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