2005 was an important year for any Suns fan, really. Steve Nash won his first MVP, Amar’e lost the following season to injury, the Suns made another mistake in a draft day trade.
It wasn’t Rondo or Deng, the two most notorious sells the Suns have made throughout the years. In fact, the guy they traded is with them now, after a journey that placed him going against Dwight Howard in practice every day.
Granted, had he stayed with the Suns he may have proven to be a weaker player, his experience in Orlando gave him something that the Suns couldn’t, a great defensive minded coach, the best centre in the NBA to learn from, and finally, a motivation. Gortat knew he had to prove he can play Power Forward to Stan van Gundy if he wanted to get some playing time.
And yet, it never happened, and as Free Agency approached, Gortat hoped he’d be able to escape the rusty cage that Orlando has been for him. I can’t begin to imagine how happy he was when he got a mid-level offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks — a team that always needed a good centre. And I can’t imagine how disappointed he was when Orlando decided to match it, and put him in for another season of limited minutes, with no prospects of escaping.
The offseason came and gone as Orlando was treated to a playoff exit, courtesy of the Boston Celtics, their general manager noticed it might be time for a change. Trade rumours were flying around, until finally, on December 19th, 2010, Gortat was freed. Until this day, he calls the day when he found out about the trade “the best day of his life”, while Otis Smith was left wondering how the only youth he got in return for an arguably top 10 centre was Earl Clark.
Let’s back up to 2005. The Suns make a mistake, dump Gortat off for virtually nothing. But I’m not going to whine about that. It’s wrong to whine about that, because I’m damn near convinced his time in Orlando was what made him what he is. 2005 was important for Poles in another, much grander way, a way that didn’t include a near-Mr. Irrelevant in a unpopular league. Poland had a new parliament, and with it a new government. I won’t get into political details, but the effect of these elections was a massive emigration of Polish youth and specialists to Ireland, Great Britain, the States and Canada. The emigration changed the Polish stereotype, if only a little bit, especially in England where Polish plumbers were held in high regard.
“Wait a moment, why the hell are you talking about plumbers?” – probably you right now.
I’m getting to it, it’s a metaphor. Or a pathetic example of literary incapability. Whatever the case, you’ll get my point in a moment.
These plumbers were said to be incredibly efficient, fast and most importantly cheap. Many people said that they managed to do more than the British plumbers, without their incessant whining or costly “extra services”. They came in, they did what they were supposed to, took less money for it, and you didn’t need to see them again because of a sloppy job. How about that? I wish that these guys would be as good in Poland as they are overseas.
And so, while Great Britain was getting their plumbers thanks to Poland, the NBA got the first taste of their Pole. Gortat didn’t play in the NBA until 2008, and when he did, he got limited minutes. Minutes in which he did what he liked to do, which meant hustling, playing good defence and making the occasional highlight-reel dunk. But once in Phoenix, Gortat has showed what he’s really made of. His work ethic was Steve Nash like, his heart was in the game, and eventually, he earned his first regular starting job.
And, if last year was the NBA’s version of a 21st birthday for Gortat, this year is starting to be his Wedding. (If you have no idea what that means, rest assured, neither do I). “The Polish Machine” as he calls himself (which I refuse to do because of the unavoidable Sasha Vujacic connotation) is a leading scorer on a NBA team. Granted, he’s not the most impressive leading scorer, but given that he played without a thumb for half of the games he’s played thus far, it’s still pretty good. Incidentally, he’s also leading the league in field goal percentage, while basically carrying the Suns (fading) D on his back every time down the court. I could go on about his great stats, his improved post game and other things like that all day. But I won’t. I could make an argument for him as an All-Star, but once again, I’m not going to do that.
What I’m going to do is give him credit. Give him credit for what he’s done to his game, give him credit for being the only consistent help Steve Nash gets on a nightly basis. Give him credit for being one of the most cost-efficient players in the NBA. Give him credit for staying humble.
He’s earning less than Josh Childress who should bear the title of bench-warmer extraordinaire by now. A mid-level contract for a big man means that he’s either a reserve or a sub-par starter in today’s reality. What would a guy playing like that get in this past free agency? My guess would be north of $10 million. He doesn’t seem to mind his underpayment, though. He’s like the Polish plumber who earns less than his British counterparts despite doing a better job than a lot of them. Perhaps that is what we should call him from now on, “The Plumber”?
Hey, it may sound bad, but at least it’s more original than a machine or a hammer!