Right now, Oklahoma City has expressed high interest in two guys – Marcin Gortat and Paul Millsap. Sam Presti phoned both of them within an hour of the free agency period starting with Millsap and then Gortat minutes later. Both are restricted free agents but both look like they’ll be cut loose by their current teams. They play different positions and do different things yet OKC will probably have to pick one or the other to direct its focus on – there’s no way the Thunder splurges and signs both. In some ways, I actually wonder if the Thunder signs either.
But right now, if you had to choose, which one do you go after? The seven-foot center Gortat or the brawny power forward Millsap? You can look at lots of things – need, fit, upside, price, nicknames. (Gortat has maybe the best in the league with The Polish Hammer and I don’t even know what Millsap’s is. I started calling him “The Milkman” last year, but I’m sure that’s not official. You’ve got to weigh those sort of things.) I see it this way: Which would you rather have, designer clothes that look really awesome or clothes that actually fit? What you buy needs to fit your wardrobe and shouldn’t make you start throwing away all the clothes you’ve already got. It should just be something that you can add right in and doesn’t cause a total rearranging of your closet.
Gortat fits, Millsap looks nice. Millsap is going to want more than Gortat and Millsap’s likely to be a well-paid backup. Millsap is looking for a contract somewhere in the range of five years, $45 million. He’s probably not going to get that, but that’s what he’s after. Maybe OKC could ink him for around $7M per. That’s a pretty big maybe. The only thing that makes that reasonable is that there aren’t a lot of teams playing in this free agent market. But if the Thunder could get him in that territory, it wouldn’t be that bad of a deal. And for that amount, Utah might be willing to match. You just can’t know.
Gortat could feasibly be next year’s starter, but if not, he’d be making reasonable bench player money. A lot of this depends on the vision for Jeff Green. If he’s your power forward of the future, then signing Millsap doesn’t make a crapton of sense. But if OKC feels like Green is a sixth man or possibly not in the long-term plans, then Millsap would be a good fit. If you’re asking me, I truly believe Green has the tools to be a solid 4 in this league. Heck, he really already is – 16.5 and 7 ain’t that bad in your second season.
I think the organization sees Uncle Jeff as its power forward. But if they sign Millsap, I guess we’ll know they think differently. Unless of course Millsap is being signed just to take Nick Collison’s spot, which would be great if the Thunder could sign Millsap for the same money they’re paying Collison. But that probably has about as much chance of happening as me getting a 10-day contract.
Millsap is a nice player. He was excellent in Carlos Boozer’s absence last year and that great play earned him what’s sure to be a nice contract. But the Thunder’s fairly stacked at power forward. Of course there’s Green and Collison, but what about D.J. White who played just seven games last year? White looked pretty darn good in those games and with some added weight and a little refining, what’s to say he’s not going to be an excellent backup big man? Or even Serge Ibaka? He’s coming over and playing in the summer league. Maybe he blows management away and makes the roster as an extra big. Now you’re jammed full of power forwards, but one of them you just signed for five years and $40 million.
To me, signing Millsap isn’t a very Presti-like move. It seems like a rushed, let’s-get-better-right-now move instead of the planned, calculated progression Presti has had since he took over. Signing Millsap would make you either take some clothes to Goodwill or make you completely rearrange everything.
Gortat on the hand, would fit nicely in the closet. Though The Polish Hammer is really an unknown. He played well in the playoffs (which is probably a bad thing for OKC because it drove his demand and price up) but he didn’t make much of a dent in the regular season (3.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg in 12.5 minutes per game). He’s just 25 and next year will be his third season in the league. But he’s more athletic than most men his size and his has some untapped potential. He can protect the rim, provides the Thunder with a physical post presence to defend guys like Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan and Al Jefferson, is a quality rebounder and can even score the ball a little.
You know who the Thunder’s current backup center is? Nick Collison. Sure B.J. Mullens just got picked, but he’s a ways off so as of right now, Collison is playing the backup 4 and 5. So there’s clearly a place and a need there.
But the question as always: Is the price right?
Gortat has already said he’s going to want at least the mid-level exception, which would immediately take a team like Houston out of the running because they aren’t willing to offer that much and you’d think would eliminate Orlando from matching, though reports say they will. Really, most every other team out there doesn’t have the room available to make an offer at or above the MLE. Memphis was the other major player but they just traded for… hang on…. (laughing uncontrollably)…. Zach Randolph, so I guess they’ve filled their power forward position.
So that’s a contract in the area of five-years, $30 million for a guy that you think can be a tremendous help. That’s 6 million a year for all you math wizards. That’s how much we’re paying Collison and Earl Watson right now. So don’t think for a second that it’s a major, big money deal. I’d pay the same money we’re paying to Earl Watson for a quality backup/starting center, wouldn’t you?
Nenad Krstic has two years left on his deal. B.J. Mullens is probably two or three years away from having the chance to really compete for serious playing time. So there’s no harm in spending a little money on a big man that could potentially be your starter next year or at least in two. A combination of Krstic and Gortat would not only give OKC the whitest, most foreign center combo possibly in league history, but also two guys that have complementing games and would combine to make one really good center at the price of around $11M per. That’s not so outrageous is it? For perspective, Erick Dampier makes $12 million this year. Brad Miller makes $12.5 million. Eddy Curry makes $11 million next year. And we’d have two quality big men for around the price of that. That sounds good to me.
Presti is smart enough not to overextend. Gortat looks like a nice fit but he’s not The Fit. He’s not the missing piece to drive us to the playoffs. He’s a nice player that would fill a need. But he’s not worth overpaying and he’s definitely not worth mortgaging the future for. Unless the tag is around the mid-level exception (about $6 million), there’s no way OKC signs him. Just no way. Same goes for Millsap.
And right now, the ball’s in the Thunder’s court because not too many teams out there can even offer that. Dallas is in play, Indiana is talking and Houston wants in. Now Orlando is even saying they plan on matching any offer, unless Gortat doesn’t want to come back. Gortat’s got a bunch of people talking and his destination may not be Oklahoma City, but if the price is right, it should be.