AUBURN HILLS, MICH. — With the Washington Wizards only a few hours away from opening the season Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons, Marcin Gortat didn’t have much time to get caught up as the team’s first shootaround of the season ended at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
So Gortat nodded attentively as John Wall directed him and explained where he should move in a pick-and-roll set. About all that has been settled thus far for Gortat is his jersey number: He will wear No. 4 with the Wizards.
“I was hoping I would come back to 13,” said Gortat, whose practice jersey still only has the team name. “But obviously, [Kevin] Seraphin’s got it.”
Gortat wore No. 13 in Orlando but two-time most valuable player Steve Nash owned that number in Phoenix. When someone jokingly told Gortat that he should get No. 13 now because he’s older than Seraphin, Gortat smiled and said: “I got bigger pockets, too. He knows that.”
His car and most of his belongings still remain in Phoenix after the Wizards’ trade last Friday with the Suns, but Gortat obviously didn’t leave his sense of humor behind. In the unusual position of spending an entire training camp and preseason with one team and then opening the regular season with another team, Gortat has been cramming like crazy over the past few days. He knows enough to get by against the Pistons.
“I’m ready to play,” Gortat said. “I’m happy the season starts now. People, veterans usually are tired of preseason. So I’m excited that we start to play today and obviously, we came to win the game. At the end of the day, it’s all about competing. Even if you screw up something on the court, you’ve just got to improvise. Make sure the guy is not going to score and if they miss the shot, you’ve got to rebound the ball. I don’t think I’ll have any problems with that.”
The physical, 6-foot-11 Gortat would appear to be a much-needed counter for the Pistons’ imposing front line of Andre Drummond and former Georgetown star Greg Monroe. But Coach Randy Wittman hasn’t stated if Gortat will be in the starting lineup, but Trevor Booker has getting repetitions with the first five in practices and shootaround.
“He’s still on roller skates a little bit right now,” Wittman said of Gortat. “Obviously you want to try and keep him in a situation where he isn’t thinking too much. You can’t be a player who is thinking and expect to perform at a high level. He’s got to get a comfort level to him. He’ll show me how much time he really deserves as he picks things up. I haven’t coached him in a game, even a preseason game yet.”
The Wizards are looking for some payback on Wednesday after losing all four games against the Pistons last season. But Gortat enters the game with his own incentive to defeat Detroit. When Phoenix made its only appearance at the Palace of Auburn Hills last November, Gortat scored just six points in a 117-77 loss which ranks as the third-worst in the Suns’ franchise history.
“I also would like to take revenge on that team,” Gortat said. “They totally dominated us and I’m hoping to pay them back right now. It’s only one game, but we came here to win the game. And my presence on this team, hopefully will help on the glass and energy and toughness. Hopefully, I’ll bring a winning spirit.”
Seraphin got to hold on to his jersey number but he didn’t sound threatened about possibly getting fewer minutes now that the Wizards have acquired more size.
“That’s the NBA. I was always expecting somebody to come and it’s like that. Unless you a superstar, you can’t be like, and think, ‘That’s my spot.’ You can be gone in a minute. That’s why I’m like, ‘He’s coming in. Okay. I will just stay focused and keep doing what I’m doing.’ ”
Nene has been the most excited about adding Gortat and he gave his new teammate a ride to the airport after Tuesday’s practice. Gortat said the two are already hitting it off.
“Nene was great from Day One. He was one of the first guys to call me. He was so excited I was coming to DC,” Gortat said. “I’ve known him for six years. True leader. True brother. True veteran. I’m excited I’m with him on the team. I’ll be able to say I played with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Nene.”