NBA's Houston Rockets launched a determined bid to sign Orlando Magic's Polish centre Marcin Gortat.
|Poland's Marcin Gortat in action during the NBA Finals series [EPA]
Concerned about the potential loss of All-Star centre Yao Ming, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey showed up at Gortat's home in Orlando just after midnight local time, virtually the minute that NBA teams were officially allowed to begin negotiating with free agents.
Morey even announced the meeting on his Facebook page and urged fans to leave notes for Gortat at an e-mail address.
Morey said that almost 2,000 emails had been received by noon on Wednesday.
"He was reading them with some intensity,'' Morey said.
"He was impressed by the number of messages and how much the fans seem to care about their team. I knew Rockets fans would come through.''
Gortat's agent, Guy Zucker, said Morey even showed up in Orlando with a Rockets jersey with Gortat's name on it. He also said his client was interested in the Rockets.
"We had planned to meet teams later on in the process,'' Zucker said.
"So this was a big surprise. The jersey with his name on it really caught him off-guard.''
Morey said the Rockets made Gortat an offer, but would not divulge details.
"He's someone we've targeted for some time, even before this season,'' Morey said.
"Although he's early in his career in terms of experience, we feel like he's a guy who has a lot of potential over time.''
|Yao Ming faces an uncertain future after the latest diagnosis [GALLO/GETTY]
All the love for Gortat is driven by the uncertainty surrounding Yao after the team doctor said on Monday that the hairline fracture in Yao's left foot could threaten his career.
The team said last week that Yao was out indefinitely and was seeking other medical opinions to plot a new course of treatment.
Morey had no update on Yao's condition.
The 2.11-metre Gortat averaged just 3.8 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last season and 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds during the Magic's playoff run to the NBA finals.
He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Magic can match any offer from another team to keep the player.
Gortat is one of the few true centres among this summer's crop of free agents, and the Rockets are not the only team interested.
The Dallas Mavericks jumped into the mix on Wednesday, too, sending coach Rick Carlisle to handle some of the recruiting.
Dallas is looking for a big man to back up starter Erick Dampier, though Dampier's expiring contract makes him a juicy trade target this offseason.
The Mavericks may be dangling a bigger role for Gortat, either right away or by the start of the following season.
Dallas also can offer the chance to be part of a team that have won 50 games and made the playoffs each of the last nine years.
With Dirk Nowitzki still in his prime, team owner Mark Cuban is doing all he can to win now - something that might be tougher for the Rockets to do with Yao and Tracy McGrady recovering from serious injuries.
Morey said that the Rockets were looking for a reserve centre even before the severity of Yao's injury was known. Dikembe Mutombo, who backed up Yao over the last five seasons, is retiring.
"We were targeting lots of players,'' Morey said.
"We feel like Marcin would not only make a good backup, but also has the potential to be a solid starter.''