July 28, 2011
Last season's post-Amar'e Suns had some glaring holes inside. Robin Lopez(notes) was tabbed to take on a bigger role after impressing during the Suns' 2010 playoff run, but he struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness. The team also obtained Marcin Gortat(notes) in December, but he's a merely serviceable player with a much-too-big contract earned in the wake of looking solid as Dwight Howard's(notes) backup when the Magic made the NBA Finals in 2009.
Despite their troubles, Lopez and Gortat are still in direct competition with each other for playing time. According to Gortat, they may not be the best of friends. At a camp in Poland, he explained what happened when they first met. Seth Pollack had the story translated into English for SB Nation Arizona (via PBT):
Marcin said that on his first day in Phoenix he asked Robin if practice started on the court or with a video session. Robin told Marcin that he didn't know so Gortat went to the gym while Lopez went to watch video. According to Gortat, a coach came to get him and asked why he was late and Marcin said that he had asked Robin and was told he didn't know where practice was starting. The coach said everyone knew where they were supposed to be. Marcin took that as a sign of where things stood between himself and Lopez.
Gortat went on to talk about the opportunity that Lopez had to earn and keep the starting job.
"This guy (Lopez) had such a big chance, such a big opportunity, to play in the best league. When I was Orlando, playing behind Dwight (Howard), I was praying to get a chance to play and he (Lopez) has had this chance for two years and he didn't take.
So I thought, when you don't want it, there will be 50 persons behind you, waiting to take this chance, and then I came by and I took (it). Sorry, that's business, that's life."
Gortat's claim that Lopez willfully deceived him is the most controversial, so let's start with that one. Pollack notes that Lopez later emailed him to say that the team does not know if practice will start with basketball work or video on any particular day, so it's likely that he was mistaken on this particular day. I have firsthand experience with Lopez and am inclined to believe him. He has quite a bit of talent, but he's also quite scatterbrained and needs to be told exactly what to do on a particular day. If he had really been trying to trick Gortat, he would have told him the wrong place to go, not gone back to his business of playing pogs with Alvin Gentry's young son.
Plus, even if Lopez had been trying to embarrass Gortat on his first day, he wasn't right to air their apparently one-sided feud in public. Lopez has been the subject of trade rumors recently, but he's still a member of the Suns. Gortat just called out a teammate's drive in public. What happens if neither player is dealt? What's that locker room going to be like?
Lopez has his problems as a player, and it was certainly disconcerting for Suns fans that he didn't take more of a leap in 2010-11. But that doesn't mean he has it out for his positional competition or doesn't care about being a good basketball player. Airing this out in public wasn't the answer. More than anything, Gortat comes across as paranoid and insecure.