The Graceful Exit. Part of a quote by Ellen Goodman that I won’t bother with making you read but if you click here and opt to read it for yourself, then you may understand its wisdom and how it pertains to the Washington Wizards.
Being it my third time covering these exit interviews, I’ve noticed a transparent shift in the way players express themselves when reflecting on the season that was and discussing the future that will be. And they do so in the realist fashion. Back in the day, the last words of the season would come by way of some dead man walking like Chris Singleton, explaining something like…okay I’m not even going to pretend like I remember anything Chris Singleton said but it was probably worthless and obviously nothing that held up.
Today’s Wizards are different, though. Today’s Wizards aren’t spewing to an audience of rolling eyes and jack off hand gestures. Today’s Wizards actually know their long-term purpose. And despite their season ending damn near identically the way it did last year — at home, in six games, in the second round of the playoffs — it’s totally fine to still consider 2014-15 a step in the right direction. You can consider things like, yanno, Otto’s development in the playoffs as an enforcer. Or the reformations of gameplanning how Bradley Beal is utilized as a scorer. Maybe, consider John Wall is all ours, for years and years to come.
Now, don’t get me wrong; the offseason arrived much earlier than any of us were wishful for, but now that it’s all over, the look-ahead begins, and there’s plenty to talk about.
And so I hereby take the liberty of kicking off our catalog of 2014-15 Wizards exit interviews, given by notable players on the Monday after the eliminating Game 6 loss to Atlanta. One guy that didn’t see a whole lot of floor time in that game was Marcin Gortat, the first guy to step up to the invisible podium in a Verizon Center hallway just outside the practice floor on Monday morning (I really don’t know why these interviews are conducted in this odd location of the building — especially when the media room is still set as it was for the playoffs.)
On Game 6.
March began his end-of-season spiel by expressing the utmost regret for missing all but 12 minutes of Game 6, especially the 4th quarter, where the Hawks burned the Wizards on critical plays at the rim. #ICYMI: Food poisoning was the case.
On lack of playing time in 4th quarters.
The Game 6 discussion segued right into the next one, which dealt with the frustration Gortat and everyone and everyone’s mother and/or mother-in-law felt all season long: his absence in the 4th quarters of many, many games.
- Marcin Gortat’s usage in the 4th quarter this season:
Started all 82 games. Spent 29 of those games without a single 4th quarter minute.
- The effect of Marcin Gortat’s 4th quarter absences:
In 16 December games, Gortat sat out the 4th quarter in eight of them. By mid-February, the trend of those missing minutes hit the Twitter airwaves, leading to this very unfortunate comparison to Carlos Boozer:
Marcin Gortat is the new Carlos Boozer. pic.twitter.com/qjsa9geKcm
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) February 9, 2015
After a close loss to the Raptors on February 12 in which Gortat sat out the 4th quarter in favor of Drew Gooden, the silence began to break. Gortat would explain the team’s flawed late-game execution and subsequently bridge those comments to his absence in the 4th quarter. At that point, you were kind of feeling for the dude who was seemingly being paid $60 million to watch guys like Drew Gooden move in on the role he felt he ought to be in. That’s when I knew exactly how Robin Williams felt in Mrs. Doubtfire when he was perturbed by the sight of Pierce Brosnan frolicking around with his ex-wife and kids in a public pool.
Against the Warriors in late February, Gortat spent the entire 4th quarter on the bench after accumulating a 16-point/11-rebound stat line through the first three quarters. The loss to Golden State would be the fourth straight for the Wizards, enough to already peeve Gortat. His response to Wittman’s decision this time, ironically, was: “next question.”
- How Marcin Gortat feels about all this:
“Pissed” because he wants to prove he can be the guy who can close out games, but “understands” the coaching decision due to other guys stepping up. Gortat’s frankness is warranted and understandable. His banishment from 4th quarter play was often mysterious to many and rendered an unpopular explanation from Randy Wittman that his lack of mobility wasn’t viable enough to defend against smaller lineups. This naturally paved the way for Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden to finish out games, two players Gortat was in praise of for their production while he sat on the bench, along with the rest of the Wizards second unit players.
“It’s on me.”
There’s usually more than one side to a story about struggles, and one very redeeming trait of Marcin Gortat is owning up to his side and his shortcomings. Without going into specific detail, Gortat admitted he was struggling through some “personal issues” during the middle of the season and admitted the negative impact it had on his game during various spurts of the season.
If it ain’t about the money!
NEWS FLASH: It ain’t about the money!
Whatever personal issues Gortat was enduring at the time of his mid-season struggles, the one thing that wasn’t hindering his performance was the mindset of having to live up to the big contract he signed last summer. Gortat retorted that suggestion given by a reporter, saying due to the impending cap increase, his contract will be considered a “mini” one anyways. He then joked about opting out for a larger deal and we all laughed. Gotta love that merry old Marcin.
“I would love to play with a stretch 4.”
Marcin spoke in somewhat blurred lines when discussing his wishes for a player who could help open up some space for him down low. Although he professed his love for Nene and the space he provides him (sometimes, I guess, but not really), Gortat clearly wants more. With the evolution of the power forward position now helping spread offenses league-wide, Gortat wants his Wizards all in on the growing phenomenon.
Gortat spoke of an apparent imbalance in the way the Wizards utilized he and Nene on the floor at the same time. Naturally, two fridge-sized big men trying to hold fort down low will create that kind of imbalance. What would sometimes hide the weakness of Nene and Gortat’s coexistence on the floor was Nene’s every-so-often nifty passing skills off of a screen and roll, finding Gortat by tucking an extra dish to him underneath the basket for a nice finish. But that sort of chemistry wasn’t always there and surely wasn’t sustainable. And with Gortat and Nene’s range barely stretching past the free throw line, the lane became Clog City quite often for the Wizards.
Gortat mentioned how Nene’s attraction to better defenders usually landed weaker defenders on him which offered him opportunities to score, but evidently, that’s not enough. Marcin clearly wants full control, and to be warden of the paint. He wants the space that’ll allow he and John Wall to operate one of the most unguardable pick and roll combinations in the league, something he unquestionably deserves to have in this offense. Additionally, the concept of a stretch 4 fits the gameplan Randy Wittman has promised to implement next season: to be faster and to shoot more 3’s. I’d say Gortat’s head is totally in the right place on this matter.
Summer plans to play with Polish National Team.
Marcin will occupy much of his summer overseas with the Polish National Team, competing in the 2015 Eurobasket tournament. Being the ‘god’ Marcin Gortat is to the country of Poland and his devotion to the people, expect Gortat to be in tip-top shape as he prepares to rep his land for possibly the last time ever.
“As an organization, we’re going in the right direction.”
“It’s all about us right now, to perform.”
Hearing a prized star in this league like Marcin Gortat exalt the Wizards organization for their affability towards their players is extraordinarily refreshing. Moreover, it proves how much easier it makes it for a player, whether disgruntled by personal issues or coaching decisions or just not performing well enough, to be as willing and devoted to change whatever’s needed to improve the way Marcin does playing for the Wizards. I expect March’s heart-to-heart with Randy Wittman regarding his concerns to be full of understanding, maybe a few hugs, perhaps a noogie, and hopefully two large mugs of lager.
Truly, the only “graceful exit” is the one that is made when “leaving what’s over without denying its value” and Marcin has definitely applied his words of farewell in that appropriate, graceful manner.