Commentary

Keeping Gortat was Magic's surprise

Updated: July 14, 2009, 1:07 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Marcin GortatAP Photo/Reinhold MatayThe Mavs' designs on Marcin Gortat were foiled by Orlando's willingness to exceed the salary cap.

One of the fun games-within-a-game of free agency is the poker match. Knowing who's serious, who's bluffing, who's just trying to up the ante and what's in everyone else's hand is just as important in this game as it is at the tables in Vegas.

We saw a perfect example Monday, as a spectacular piece of card playing by Magic general manager Otis Smith left the Mavericks slack-jawed, while once again illustrating the dangers of signing offer sheets early in the free-agent period.

Smith shocked nearly everyone by matching Dallas' five-year, $34 million offer sheet to Marcin Gortat, the Polish backup center who is unlikely to play more than 10 minutes a game next season because he's backing up all-world center Dwight Howard. Fans haven't seen much of Gortat because he's stuck behind Howard, but the dude can play -- he's mobile, rebounds well and can score. But between salary and luxury tax, Gortat will cost the Magic close to $12 million this year, which is nearly a maximum salary.

When Dallas presented the offer sheet, Smith said he wanted all seven days to make up his mind and would have taken eight if he could have. But don't believe him. He knew exactly what he was going to do all along.

Every good team does -- in preparation for free agency, it runs through all the scenarios of what another team might offer its players, and if so whether it would match. The Magic almost certainly knew on July 1 whether they were matching this deal; they just didn't let everyone else in on the secret until today.

In fact, it's quite likely they sprinkled some leaks indicating that they wouldn't match; surely it was believable given their status as a luxury-tax team in an old arena in a small market. Why pay so much more for a secondary piece?

But if they already knew they were matching, it was a brilliant stroke, because it allowed them to get a second player at a discount price. Remember, Gortat isn't the only big man Orlando inked this week -- the Magic also signed Brandon Bass to a four-year, $18 million deal. And Bass, you'll surely remember, played for the Mavericks last season.

By making Dallas believe that they wouldn't match the offer for Gortat, they were able to throw the Mavs off the scent of Bass. At the time, the Mavs were thinking letting Bass go to the Magic would eliminate any chance of losing Gortat.

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