Like a ship taking on water after it runs aground, the Suns began sinking even faster once their starting center stopped playing.
The ripple effect following the injury to Marin Gortat created huge waves.
The Suns lost 15 of 17 games, including ten in a row at one point before righting the ship somewhat with wins in two of their last three contests.
“Being on the side and watching the team play, obviously, they’re missing a big guy,” Gortat said.
“Jermaine (O’Neal) is over there but with all due respect, he’s not 18 anymore. He’s not going to play 40 minutes. He can get you a good 15-20 minutes and then he needs a break. Hamed (Haddadi) was here for a few weeks and he’s trying to help but also, he came in no shape. He had to first of all, work towards getting better, conditioning-wise.
“Basically,” Gortat continued, “the team played for the rest of the year without a center. It was just bad, bad luck for the team. That’s it.”
Gortat’s season ended after he suffered a right midfoot sprain March 6 against Toronto. At the time, he expressed a desire to return for the last two or three games. Then, after having the foot immobilized for four weeks, he wanted to “take one last jump shot” in the regular season home finale to “say good-bye to the fans.”
He simply ran out of time trying to get back into basketball shape.
“My foot is great,” said Gortat, who has resumed running and jumping. “Quite honestly, I don’t think I got the feel for basketball right now. Mentally, I checked myself out from the season. I definitely could play last game, but I don’t think even if I want to play they would let me play because it’s just — we don’t need that.”
Gortat is going into the final year of his contract, which will pay him $7.7 million next season. Ultimately, neither he nor the team believed an early return was worth the risk.
“It’s tough,” said Gortat, who had not missed any playing time since being acquired by the Suns from Orlando in 2010, playing in 182 consecutive games. “In a month or two, I’m going to be hungry for basketball again and then, I’m just going to realize that the next season starts in four, five months.”
Gortat likely will end the season as the team’s top rebounder (8.5), number-one shooter (.521) and third-leading scorer (11.0) even as he is about to sit out his 21st straight game Wednesday in Denver.
“The season, for me, was really hard,” he said, looking back. “I started pretty strong, then right in the middle was a bad stretch where I started feeling really tired after the summer I played (for the Polish national team). Right before the injury, about two weeks before that injury, I started figuring out everything in my brain, how should I approach the game. With all the changes around the team, how should I play? I started feeling more comfortable. I started feeling better, mentally, physically and then boom, the injury came.”
Gortat has proven to be one of the better centers in the league. Plus, his contract makes him an attractive asset, leaving questions as to his future with the Suns.
He has his own questions as well.
“I would say it’s too early to say,” he said when asked about next year. “Obviously, we got to wait for all of the changes in the offseason. I would definitely see myself playing here because there’s a huge Polish community. It’s a great, great city; great organization with a lot of history and the most important thing, great trainers. They’re definitely going to extend my playing career for the next few years.
“But do I want to be on a team that’s going to be losing 60 games in a season? Hell no. Let me tell you this straight up. Hell no.”
“As long as we’re going to go in the direction — young direction, that we’re going to try to rebuild the team and we definitely are going to move in the direction to bringing a lot of young guys, yeah, I can be a part of this team,” Gortat continued.
“I definitely don’t want to be a part of a losing team. It’s not fun. The year is long. You don’t want to be pictured like that. It’s just bad for business. I don’t want to be remembered like that.”
In other words, remembered as the captain who went down with the ship.