Marcin Gortat is a quality NBA starting center. He can play 30-35 minutes every night, putting up a double double and providing quality help defense. Every NBA team needs a quality starting center, the Suns being one of them, but the teams who need a guy like Marcin Gortat in 2013-14 are dwindling.
The question is not whether the Suns will trade Gortat, it's when. At 29 years old with an expiring contract, he doesn't fit the profile for the rebuilding Suns who won't (and shouldn't) sniff the playoffs until 2015 at the earliest. And the worst possible outcome is just watching Gortat walk away next summer.
To the surprise of many, new GM Ryan McDonough and PBO Lon Babby already turned swingman Jared Dudley and (with an assist from Lance Blanks) third-string PG Sebastian Telfair into a potential star player in combo guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe may turn out to be nothing more than a good sixth man, but that's his floor. His ceiling is much higher. Higher than any Suns player from last season's roster.
Can the new Suns front office make a similar move with Marcin Gortat, to acquire a young asset that's been buried behind a star and just needs the minutes to shine?
I have argued all along that Gortat has more value in trade than Jared Dudley. The issue facing McDonough is finding that partner who is both (a) in need and (b) holding the right assets to send back.
Let's review the potential suitors and what assets they might be able to offer in return.
Suitors for Gortat likely fit the following profile:
These teams already have a quality center under contract: Brooklyn Nets (Brook Lopez), Charlotte (Al Jefferson), Chicago (Joakim Noah), Denver Nuggets (Javale McGee), Detroit Pistons (Greg Monroe), Golden State Warriors (Andrew Bogut), Houston Rockets (Omer Asik), Indiana Pacers (Roy Hibbert), Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan), Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol), Milwaukee Bucks (Larry Sanders), New York Knicks (Tyson Chandler), Portland Trailblazers (Robin Lopez, Myers Leonard), Sacramento Kings (DeMarcus Cousins), San Antonio Spurs (Tiago Splitter just re-signed), Washington (Emeka Okafor, Nene).
These teams could go either way in the next few weeks, toward building a playoff participant or tanking: Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors (Jonas Valencuinas?), Utah Jazz (Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors). All three are either missing centers, or they have youth at the spot that won't help them make the playoffs.
In fact, just this morning (July 5), the Jazz are looking into acquiring Andrew Bogut from Golden State. So, they aren't settling for kids like Favors and Kanter, indicating a desire to make the playoffs.
Depending on how the Dwecision plays out and these teams' reaction to losing him, it's possible that they will want a veteran center on a 1-year deal to stopgap the 2013-14 season with an eye toward the playoffs.
The problem for the Suns is that neither team has any young assets to send back that compare to Eric Bledsoe (or really, any young assets at all). The Lakers cannot send any first-rounders out until 2017 at the earliest. And the Mavericks' (top-20 protected) 2014 first round pick has already been bandied about the league a few times, currently sitting in the lap of the OKC Thunder. And that protected pick rolls over as far out as 2018, when it becomes unprotected.
So, forget the Lakers.
It's possible the Mavericks would offer their 2014 #1 pick unprotected (like the Lakers did in 2013), where the Suns only get it if they are in the top 20, but I really doubt the Mavericks would go to that trouble for the 2013-14 season.
That leaves this final category of teams who may still be in the market for a starting quality center because they want to make the playoffs next spring. That doesn't mean they will acquire one. It just means they might want to explore their options.
The Cavs don't have a great option at center. They have played with Sideshow Bob (Andersen Varejao) at center for years, but that doesn't add wins and they really want to win next season. Their best pure center is second-year player Tyler Zeller, who isn't ready to play big minutes on a playoff caliber team.
Assets: the Cavs have a lot of young assets - Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller. With the recent acquisitions of Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark, along with Sideshow Bob's best position being PF, it's quite possible they would consider parting with Tristan Thompson for Marcin Gortat.
These guys are only on here because they need a center. The HEAT got by with Chris Anderson and Joel Anthony, but could always use an upgrade. Why not Gortat?
Assets: none. So there's no use thinking about the HEAT any more.
If the Cavs or someone else decide to go with signing Nikola Pekovic to a big offer, then the Wolves need a center.
Assets: The sad thing about the Wolves is that their only real, young assets are guards and Derrick Williams. They just drafted Shabazz Muhammad to go along with Rubio and Shved, and just signed two veteran shooters (Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin). There's just nothing worth sending back to the Suns here.
The Pelicans just traded their 2012-13 center for a bag of beans, and they weren't even magic beans. Pinto, I think. They definitely need a center.
Assets: the ever-available Eric Gordon is a luxury now in that expensive back court. Guard Austin Rivers is the only other kid with potential that NOLA would be looking to move. Their team is still very shallow, with no bench and no cap room to make one. NOLA could try to trade Gordon to the Suns in a many-to-one transaction to fill out their bench. Also, there are no first-round picks to trade until 2016 at earliest. The Pelicans just sent their 2014 pick to Philly.
Now here's an interesting option. The Thunder are stuck with Kendrick Perkins ($19 million over 2 years) and really need an upgrade to go all the way.
Assets: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and lots of first round picks. Yet, the Thunder suddenly really need Lamb to pan out for them, unless they sign one of the few remaining shooters on the market. The roster is totally top-heavy, but the Thunder will have to make a decision on how hard they want to go to the Finals. Adding the expiring Gortat while shedding Perkins' contract might just entice the Thunder to give up some future assets to get it done. The Thunder currently have their own 2014 first-round pick and the Mavericks' top-20 protected pick, plus their own 2015 and 2016 picks.
I never would have pegged Jared Dudley to the Clips for Eric Bledsoe, so maybe I've got this all wrong too. But it sure seems like the Suns' best bets for Gortat are the OKC Thunder (for Perkins and some combo of Jones, Lamb, picks), New Orleans Pelicans (Eric Gordon) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller).
But OKC and New Orleans no longer have the cap space to sign anyone outright, so they will need to make a trade.
A wild card could be Utah. If the trade for Andrew Bogut falls through, they've already showed their hand that they want to make the 2014 playoffs and don't feel their current centers can get the job done. Might they turn to Gortat instead?
Keep your eyes and ears open, Suns fans. Things are always changing. But it just might be in the Suns best (and only) interest to keep Gortat for a while and wait to see who gets injured next season, opening up new needs for playoff teams.