Remember 10 days ago when Marcin Gortat and his shot-blocking prowess were the talk of the town? That seems like forever ago at this point.
The Suns have lost four of five since their 26-point comeback at home against Cleveland on Nov. 9, and Gortat has been virtually non-existent at the offensive end — averaging 6.8 points on 7.4 shots per game over that span.
As he’s been accustomed to do during his time in Phoenix, Gortat decided to take his frustrations public after Friday’s 114-102 loss in Los Angeles.
It’s become almost an annual tradition with the Polish Hammer. Who can forget his memorable rant on the Suns’ lack of intensity at the defensive end following a 123-110 loss to the Sixers just two weeks into his tenure with the organization? Or the time he bagged on then-teammate Robin Lopez at a kids basketball camp in Poland for failing to seize the opportunity to be a starting center?
Fans in the Valley have grown used to Gortat’s sometimes unfortunate gift of gab, but his latest comments make all prior instances look rather tame.
On Monday, Gothic Ginobili reported that the Suns’ center conducted an interview following the team’s loss to the Lakers with Polish journalist Marcin Harasimowicz of the Przeglad Sportowy. Harasimowicz, who is based in Los Angeles, asked Gortat everything from his feelings on this year’s team to how he believes he should be utilized in the offense to how he views the team’s chances as the season moves along.
The guys over at Gothic Ginobili were kind enough to translate the interview from Polish to English, but the context surrounding Harasimowicz’s interview still is not known. Was the interview done off the record? Was some of the phrasing lost in translation? Why was the article posted three days after the interview?
Because Gortat was unavailable for comment following Monday’s practice, those contextual questions could not be answered.
Here are some excerpts though from the rather candid conversation. Brace yourself folks, it isn’t pretty.
Gortat on whether the off-season changes have been good or bad for him:
Marcin Gortat: Unfortunately, in my case – for worse. I’m certainly not the player I was last season, I need to find my place in the new order. I’m still capable of helping this team, and regularly recording a double double, but when the ball sticks to one person on offence [sic], it’s hard to find a good rhythm.
Gortat on how he views his role in the offense this season:
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
Gortat on why the Suns offense has grown stagnant at times:
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.
Pretty heavy stuff to say the least, especially given that Phoenix is just three weeks into its season, but as has become a recurring theme during his two-year stay with the Suns, when Gortat has something to say he doesn’t really care who hears it.
The Polish Hammer went on to say that he doesn’t think a conversation with Gentry would do much good at this point, this his chemistry with Goran Dragic isn’t what it was with Steve Nash and that he was a big optimist to begin the season, because he believed they’d play a much different type of game than they have during their 4-7 start.
It’s a lot to take in, especially without too much context to the interview, but at the heart of it is a guy who feels lost as the team transitions between the old guard and the new guard. Heading into the season, Gortat was expected to be one of the leaders on the Suns given that they had nine new faces on the roster.
Even if said in anger, this is not the kind of leadership Phoenix’s front office probably expected at the first sign of adversity.
It’s disheartening in the sense that Gortat, while a great asset at both ends of the floor, was by no means ever going to be a main option on offense this season. As the VotS crew discussed during the season preview video, Gortat’s numbers were likely going to come more off of how much energy and effort he put in on a nightly basis than from the the pick-and-roll opportunities he had with Nash. He had to have known when the team brought in Dragic, Luis Scola and Michael Beasley, that he was going to be a No. 4 or No. 5 option. That’s no disrespect to him, but all three acquisitions — even with a raw Beasley who still doesn’t look fully in tune with his game — are more offensively-gifted than he is.
Does he make some terrific points? Sure. According to the NBA’s stats tool, the Suns’ starting five has been downright awful over the past five games, averaging a measly 74.5 points per 100 possessions with a 1.2 assist to turnover ratio.
The ball doesn’t move as fluidly as it has in recent years, that much is clear to the naked eye. But for Gortat to expect after 11 regular season games, eight preseason games and a month of camp that all of the kinks would be worked out by now is quite foolish.
Changes seemingly will be made in the coming days, but if the core of the interview is accurate — which knowing Gortat it probably is — you have to wonder why he would go to such lengths to create dissension in a still-maturing locker room so early on in the 2012-2013 season.
The article in Przeglad Sportowy suggests that maybe it’s because Gortat — who is making $7.26 million this season $7.73 million next season — wants out of Phoenix. In Friday’s interview, he’s reported as saying that he turned down a contract extension for the 2014-2015 season. That seems a little odd given that the team has $38.3 million guaranteed on the books for the 2013-2014 season and $16.8 million guaranteed for the following season. It doesn’t seem very likely, unless the offer was really low, that the team would reach out to him without seeing how he’d fit in with an almost entirely new team this season.
Although Gortat was unavailable to the media Monday, head coach Alvin Gentry couldn’t be that lucky. And credit the Suns coach for not trying to hide behind a “no comment” in regards to his center’s recent dose of verbal diarrhea.
He didn’t speak at great length about the interview but certainly didn’t try to dismiss it either.
“I’m glad he did,” Gentry said when told Gortat had publicly voiced frustrations about his role in the offense. “It’s going to be what it is with him. Nothing’s going to change. We try to throw him the ball and try to get him the ball as much as we possibly can. It is what it is, I hate using that but I guess I have to.
“We would love to throw him the ball and have him post up for us but that hasn’t been one of his strengths, really.”
Although Gentry said that Gortat is effective in pick-and-roll situations, on the offensive glass and in transition, he admitted that in the end it falls on the Suns center to make adjustments if he wants more touches, because the offensive schemes are the same as they were in 2011-12.
“Nothing has changed since last year,” said Gentry.
Gentry is certainly right that the pace and style of play on offense hasn’t varied much from 2011 and 2012, despite what seems to be a glaring lack of efficiency. And as Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk noted Monday, the numbers back that up.
Last season 21.6 percent of the Suns shot came off a pick-and-roll, another 20.4 percent on spot ups, while just 7.5 percent were isolations. So far this season 18.6 percent of shots are pick-and-roll (a Gortat strength), 21.3 percent on spot ups and 8.5 percent in isolation. They are 19th in the league in offensive efficiency this season.
Look, Marcin is going to be Marcin. If there’s one thing that’s been consistent since his arrival in December of 2010, it’s that he doesn’t try to be someone he’s not when a microphone is placed in front of him. In fact, unlike most players, he almost embraces those moments too much.
It’s hard to speculate on how much comments like these hurt team chemistry, given that Gentry is planning to shake things up due to a lack of on-court chemistry anyways.
Regardless, in the midst of a three-game losing streak this is not the type of dialogue the team needs to be hearing. The focus should be on building leads early in games, preventing teams from shooting such a high percentage from three-point range and limiting live turnovers. Instead it’s on an unhappy center and his desires to be “the guy.”
It’s the worst kind of distraction, and regardless if it gets swept under the rug over the next few days or not, his message has been heard loud and clear. Because, something tells me Gentry isn’t the only one in the organization with access to the content of the interview.
For those expecting a lineup change announcement from Gentry on Monday it never came. The Suns’ head coach said it will come sooner rather than later but that he wanted to use the next few practice days to tinker with certain combinations.
“I don’t think there’s ever an ideal time [to make a change], but when you look at our schedule it’s probably the best situation we’re going to have,” Gentry said. “I wanted to make absolutely sure that this is something we needed to do.”
Although P.J. Tucker has impressed during his brief time in Phoenix — including his defense on LeBron James during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game — don’t expect the second-year pro to be the guy inserted into the starting lineup.
“I don’t see it changing,” Gentry said of Tucker’s role. “I think he’s a great defender. He does a good job, and we will have him in the game when we need to come up with stops.”
Although several players have thrived in their respective roles off the bench — Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Tucker, Jermaine O’Neal and Markieff Morris — Gentry doesn’t feel that a shift to the starting lineup would hinder their ability to perform in the slightest.
“It doesn’t do us any good to have those guys continue to battle back down 15,” Gentry said. “We have to look at it like we need something consistent, so we aren’t falling behind by 15. We have to avoid that situation first … that’s the priority right now.”
Tags: Marcin Gortat