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Marcin Gortat is rightfully looked upon as a season-saver for the 2013-14 Washington Wizards. With Emeka Okafor going down for an indefinite amount of time during training camp with a herniated disc, the Wizards badly needed someone to plug the middle for a team that was hoping to go all in for a playoff berth. For the price of a first round pick, the team was able to send Okafor’s expiring contract to a rebuilding Phoenix Suns squad for Gortat’s services.
Yes, the “rebuilding” Suns currently have a better record than Washington – BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that Gortat has been playing terrific basketball for the Wizards after a bit of a let-down 2012-13 campaign. The big man is averaging 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, alongside 1.6 blocks in 34 minutes a contest. This is only the beginning, too, as Gortat and point guard John Wall develop their pick and dive game after missing out on a full training camp and exhibition season together.
Actually, the real point is that Gortat and his father Janusz have kind of a weird chemistry of their own. The elder Gortat was a bronze medalist light-heavyweight boxer for Poland during the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, which is part of the reason why Marcin has a bit of a pugnacious spirit. The Washington Post’s Mike Wise documented their back and forth recently:
When Marcin came home six years ago to show his father he had gotten a tattoo of him on his left pectoral muscle, with ’72 and ’76 inked alongside the portrait, Janusz predictably responded, “Have you lost your mind?”
“That’s my dad,” he says. “One time I came home from German league after winning championship. He said, ‘Those four medals you have I won when I was 18 years old. I can weigh my medals with kilograms and pounds they weigh so much.’ So one day I make my counter move. I show him my first check, it was like $300,000. ‘In this check, I will make more than you make your entire life, Dad. Hah.’ ”
“Hah?” No word on whether or not Janusz asked Marcin to step in the ring directly following this conversation.
Wise also detailed how Gortat didn’t even pick up a basketball until he was 18, which is impressive considering his per-minute stats in his early days backing up Dwight Howard in Orlando were quite good. In a misguided attempt to secure depth for his disappointing Orlando Magic team, former Magic general manager Otis Smith dealt Gortat to Phoenix in 2010 for Jason Richardson, just as the wheels were coming off the Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash-led run.
Gortat, who is working in his prime and playing on the last year of his contract, wanted no part of the rebuilding process in Phoenix. Even if since-deposed Phoenix GM Lance Blanks didn’t really want to go through with an actual rebuilding plan. From Wise’s discussion with Marcin:
“Trust me, it’s not fun to be on a team that loses 60 games a year,” he says of his 57-loss Suns of a year ago. “When Miami or San Antonio or someone would come to town and talking about resting their starters, it almost feels disrespectful. No one wants to be on a team like that.”
To Gortat’s credit, though the trade rumors were swirling from the minute new GM Ryan McDonough took over, he did not demand a trade in spite of what was expected to be another 57-loss season for Phoenix (the team is currently 10-9, surprisingly). Washington was built to be a playoff contender, good news for a player in Gortat who is probably sick of biding his time as either a highly-regarded reserve, or top player on a terrible team.
Should things continue apace (the Wizards are currently tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, even at only .500), this is also good news for Gortat’s free agent status – as his combination of skill, size and strength should likely age well as he enters his 30s.
It’s probably time to stop playing “scoreboard” with the old man, though.
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