Gortat Both Impresses, Impressed in First Suns Season
Posted: April 28, 2011
Not everyone’s Independence Day falls on July 4. On Marcin Gortat's calendar, it's forever circled as December 18.
That was the date this past season the self-proclaimed “Polish Machine” literally traded in life as a career backup to Orlando Magic All-Star Dwight Howard for his chance to carve a niche for himself in Phoenix and eventually pull down the Suns’ starting center slot in the process.
“December 18 was definitely the best day of my life so far,” said Gortat about his trade to Phoenix. “It’s bigger than my birthday right now. It was a day where a new chapter in my book opened up. It’s a different story finishing the season away from my old team. You pack up, and then you’re getting 35 minutes a game. It’s just a great feeling. It was huge step for me.”
The league’s top double-double man off the bench last season (17) before cracking the Suns’ starting lineup, Gortat’s step forward equated to career numbers across the board for the 27-year-old. Averaging 13 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.3 bpg in 55 games for the Suns (12 starts), he finished the season with 23 double-doubles and 43 double-digit scoring efforts. To put that into perspective, the center had six double-doubles and 12 double-digit scoring performances in 175 career games for the Magic.
“I got a lot of respect from my new teammates and Head Coach Alvin Gentry,” said the center, who set a new franchise mark for double-doubles off the bench in 2010-11. “He gave me a lot of freedom and the green light to do a lot of things on the floor. I’m really grateful for everything I did and everything I have. Obviously there are a lot of things I still have to improve on. I’m going to work hard this summer, and I’d like to come back twice as better next year.”
Being mathematically eliminated from 2011 playoff contention entering the regular-season finale vs. the Spurs certainly didn’t dissuade Gortat’s energy out on the court earlier this month. He tallied a game-high 21 points and 13 boards in the Suns’ 40th win of the season.
“It was a great feeling to beat up one of the best teams in the NBA,” said Gortat after the game. “It also felt good to end the season with a win. Like coach said, 40 wins look better than 39.
“Moving forward, we just have to become a more physical team. We just have to all get better individually. It was a crazy year with the trades. It wasn’t just bench guys coming and going. It included main guys, too. It’s never easy to find a rhythm with four new guys on the team. Next year, going through a whole training camp, we’ll be a better team.”
Coming to Phoenix mid-season along with Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter, the guards were already well aware of what the Polish-born center was capable of, especially when given the green light with their new team.
“(Marcin) was phenomenal,” said Carter after Gortat's 19-point, 17-rebound night in a January win over Boston. “He came out playing and not worrying about how he was going to get it or from where. He was being the player we need him to be. Defend, rebound and when he gets the ball, make plays. He’s not timid. He was engaged and awesome from both ends of the floor.”
With energy and a welcome presence in the paint, it also didn’t take Suns fans to warm up to the center – much like fellow Phoenix fan favorites Grant Hill and Steve Nash – who Gortat says he would love to emulate as team leaders next season.
“I just got to play with two great leaders in this league here, Grant and Steve,” Gortat smiled. “And everything starts with Steve. I’m ready to get out my checkbook (laughs). He can have my car. He can use my apartment. I’ll bring him donuts everyday he won’t eat. I’ll bring him salads onto the plane. He can do whatever he wants to do. I will take care of him. He’s a great player and a great leader. I really learned a lot this year, and I’m really grateful.
“The organization has been great to me. It’s fun playing basketball here.”