PHOENIX — When Marcin Gortat was summoned into the office on the Friday before the start of the regular season, he knew why.
“The first question when I walked into the room, I started smiling and laughing. I’m like, ‘OK, where am I going,'” he said looking back on the day he was traded, Oct. 25. “It’s a business. I know how it is. It was no hard feelings.”
Five days ahead of opening night, the Suns dealt their starting center — due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, along with guards Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall (those three were waived immediately) — to the Washington Wizards in exchange for center Emeka Okafor (who continues to rehab a neck injury and may not play this season) and a top-12 protected first-round pick.
The trade ended a two-and-a-half year Suns run for Gortat, who in 182 games (including 139 starts) averaged 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 54.7 percent.
“I’m always going to be fortunate for everything they did for me,” he said. “Two-and-a-half years I got to play as a starter. I got to play with the best point guard in the game, in the history of this game (Steve Nash). No hard feelings.”
Gortat scored 14 points to go along with five rebounds and two blocks in his return to Phoenix Friday, as the Wizards topped the Suns 101-95.
“Obviously, it brings a lot of memories,” he said following shootaround on the main floor at US Airways Center. “It brings a lot of experiences back to my head; great moments, also some painful moments. But overall, it brings a lot of happiness.”
And some much needed warmth. Temperatures are in the low 20s back in our nation’s capital.
“That was probably the biggest adjustment,” Gortat said. “The weather here is beautiful.”
There was some on-court adjustment, too.
Gortat had some difficulty early, even questioning his role with the Wizards under second-year head coach Randy Wittman. However, those issues have since been resolved.
“I feel like I’m comfortable with everything we do,” said Gortat, who is averaging a double-double (13 points and 10.2 rebounds) in his past five games. “To build a chemistry with teammates, with new teammates, it takes time. I’m still in the process of doing it.”
That was the issue last season, according to Gortat, who missed the final 21 games because of a midfoot sprain.
“I don’t think everybody was on the same page,” he said of the team that posted the second-worst mark in franchise history at 25-57. “We just didn’t fit each other. That’s it. We just didn’t fit each other. We had a lot of great players, but unfortunately we didn’t fit each other. That’s it. That’s the only thing.
“Coach Alvin Gentry tried to do as much as he can,” Gortat continued, “but…we just had a group of guys that didn’t fit each other. He can run the team. He knows how to run the team. Before we had a nice team with guys that spot up and I can roll and we have a great point guard. We were successful. But at the end of the day, we just had a group of guys that didn’t fit each other.”
He hinted at “a few other different things, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
Gortat’s focus is on other matters.
His Wizards team, despite being a game under .500 (20-21), are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Washington currently sits sixth, but is just two games away from third-seed Atlanta.
That’s part of the reason why Gortat wanted this win over his former team.
“So badly,” he said smiling. “You know how it is when you’re coming to your ex-team. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like hating stuff. It’s just winning. I know all these guys. I’m still in touch with most of these guys. It’s just all about winning. I just want to win basketball games. That’s it.”