SAN ANTONIO – Marcin Gortat fully expects the situations to change by the end of the season, but for now he finds himself in a rather peculiar position. Nearly three weeks ago, Gortat was traded from a Phoenix Suns team that seemed destined for next year’s draft lottery to a Washington Wizards team supposedly built to make a playoff run.
But early on, the Wizards are last in the Eastern Conference at 2-5 while the Suns have the fourth-best record in the NBA. Phoenix (5-2) is actually off to its best start since the 2009-10 season, when the Suns had Steve Nash at point guard – and a year before they made a midseason trade for Gortat. Needless to say, Gortat is a little surprised.
“Kind of, maybe, yeah,” Gortat said with a shrug.
When the Wizards shipped Emeka Okafor to the Suns to get Gortat, the move was viewed as an announcement that the franchise was serious about making a run at the playoffs. Gortat has been exactly what the Wizards have expected, providing an interior presence on both ends of the floor.
“When Emek went down, that was a big loss for us. It’s hard to fill that void and we had an opportunity to fill it. I think it was the right thing to do and as we can see, he’s kind of taken over what Emek did for us last year,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Gortat. “He’s given us a big front line. He’s got legitimate size. He can move. He can rebound. He’s got good hands and he’s done a nice job for us and he’s still learning what we’re trying to do here. Each and every day, he’s getting more comfortable but he’s been solid for us. He protects the rim and then we can get out and run. Obviously, that’s what we want to do.”
Gortat is averaging 13.3 points and 10.1 rebounds, but the Wizards have gotten off to another sluggish start. Washington will take on the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at AT&T Center.
“It puts a lot of pressure” on me, Gortat said. “Obviously, it’s too early to say but if we’re not going to make the playoffs, the blame is going to be also on me. I don’t want to be pictured as the guy that left Phoenix and all of a sudden they play well and then you come to Washington and you play bad. I don’t want to be pictured as the guy who lost all his games. We’ve just got to turn this thing around.”
Gortat went through training camp with the Suns, so he is familiar with their talent and their new system under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek. Last summer, the Suns traded for athletic point guard Eric Bledsoe to pair with Goran Dragic. And they already had some young pieces in the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus) and Miles Plumlee.
Phoenix also hired assistant Mike Longabardi from the Boston Celtics to install a defensive scheme similar to one that Tom Thibodeau ran when Boston made two Finals appearances and won a championship.
“I’m quite sure they sacrificed a lot of time to run the defense the right way,” Gortat said. “You got hungry guys like Miles Plumlee who just walked in, like, gets the job as a starter and you have P.J. Tucker who is a pitbull every night. They play well. I wish them all the best. Right away, in the beginning, teams they had just haven’t been performing well but it doesn’t mean anything. They got the win and they’re looking good.”
After averaging 22.8 points on 69.8 percent shooting and leading the Suns to three wins in four games, Markieff Morris became the first Suns player to win conference player of week since Amare Stoudemire.
“I never see him play like that. I’m happy for him. It’s time for him to shine and he’s really taking advantage of it now,” Gortat said of Morris. “They have a lot of young guys that want to work and you have two guards that are pushing the ball extremely hard. They have a really young group of kids and they got a lot of energy, they got some talent, they are going to win some games.”
Gortat paused and said, “But it’s just the beginning of the season.”
He also doesn’t believe the Wizards will be at the bottom for long. “I’m quite sure we can beat anybody. I’m confident we can beat a lot of teams,” he said.