Considering what little was expected of them as they entered the 2012-13 season, the 4-7 start the Phoenix Suns have put together can be considered a triumph of sorts. The team is somewhat holding its own in the wake of the deal that sent two-time Sun and two-time MVP Steve Nash to the recent two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers (Pau Gasol Era, 'natch), biding its time as the team's front office figures out exactly what it's going to do to secure another superstar to lead them back to relevancy.
Marcin Gortat, the well-respected Phoenix center, is not that superstar. Or even All-Star, though he's often not far off. He is a damn good big man working at the NBA's hardest position to fill under a contract that ticks just a million or so over the NBA's average salary despite his well above-average play. He's also coming off a career year that saw his great hands, superior athleticism, and timing work well as he teamed with Steve Nash to give the Suns a devastating screen and roll duo.
This season, without Nash? Eh, not so much. Gortat isn't a Nash Creation, he's played fine per-minute basketball for years prior to joining Phoenix and it still takes a finisher on the other end of those dump down passes to do something worth noting. Still, it's also worth noting that Gortat's per-minute scoring has dropped significantly in 2012-13. Even if — and this is important to remember before you hit the comment section — his shooting percentages haven't tailed off much with Nash's departure.
In a discussion with Marcin Harasimowicz at Przeglad Sportowy, Gortat vented a little in his native Polish tongue following his team's loss to the Lakers on Friday. Adam Koscielak, over at Gothic Ginobili, was kind enough to translate the interview that Gortat probably hoped wouldn't be seen by any of Phoenix's English-only fans:
Coach Alvin Gentry told me that the main post option was Luis Scola. You, on the other hand, are number one on defense.
MG: Unfortunately... I've been doing the dirty work all my life, and now I have to come back to that. I will fight for what's mine. I'll try to prove to the coach that I can play an important role in the offence. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm even an option for Gentry. He doesn't even take me into consideration. The situation is critical. We're playing the same thing we've been playing last year, but the truth is we have a completely different set of players. I don't think it really works. I can't get frustrated now though, I have to stay positive.
The Suns have a lot of players that create for themselves.
MG: We have plenty of players who like to create for themselves, but it doesn't always work. We don't share the ball as much as we have in previous seasons. The ball doesn't move around the perimeter — it usually stops after one or two passes. You can't play like this, let alone win. Basketball is a team sport. Nobody ever won a game alone.
It's true. And, not sure you've noticed, but the point guard switch between Nash and shoot-first Suns scorer Goran Dragic isn't the only massive difference from last year and this season.
Michael Beasley (Getty Images)There is also the small matter of ball-stopper Michael Beasley taking 17.6 shots for every 36 minutes he plays this year, despite shooting just 36 percent, while Gortat's per-36 attempts have gone down from 13.1 to 10.1 in 2012-13. Gortat's your latest in the long history of NBA players whining about shot attempts, but there's no reason Beasley should be taking so many of those inefficient looks while the Suns' best player is left wanting.
The defensive complaint, from Gentry? It's understandable. The Suns are last in defensive efficiency this season, and Gortat is an honest-to-goodness reliable defensive big man. There aren't 30 of those walking around for NBA teams to scoop up and place at center, and Gentry's plan to lean heavily on Marcin on that side of the ball and hope the offense takes care of itself is passable in theory.
Still, Marcin has nearly doubled his blocks per minute over last season. And, honestly, YOU try to work as a defensive anchor on a team featuring Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic, and Luis Scola attempting to act credible on that end. An eight-foot Dwight Howard in full health would have issues getting this team to respectability defensively.
None of this, unfortunately, really speaks to the larger problem in Phoenix.
This franchise, left without a star to tie its fortunes to, attempted to go piecemeal and bring in some holdovers last summer until the lottery selections could start rolling in. The team dug its own grave by taking in the gate receipts and refusing to deal Steve Nash for years until the team's leverage was at an all time low, and now it is stuck in a purgatory that doesn't even lend itself to fully devoting itself to rebuilding. All while very talented assets like Gortat (who most certainly will be coveted even if he were making nearly twice as much) and Scola show up to work every night.
Sadly, until Phoenix gets that star, this will be the only reason to turn your head their way as the season moves along. Marcin Gortat is probably surprised his English-speaking fans are privy to this telling interview, but he's not really mistaken in his assessment of Phoenix's shift in direction.
UPDATE: Alvin Gentry responds.