- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Take this number first when thinking about Marcin Gortat: 97.6.

That’s the percentage of regular-season games the Wizards‘ center has played in the last four seasons since coming to Washington. Pile in his uninterrupted postseason participation, and a stalwart at his laborious position emerges.

The workload is a point of pride for Washington’s oldest player. Gortat, 33, views availability as an NBA skill. Playing so much the last four seasons makes him feel like it’s a service he has mastered.

“At the end of the season I just went through short statistics with our medical staff,” Gortat said. “I had 103 games this year; I haven’t missed even one game. I had 103 games; I didn’t miss even one practice or shoot-around. On top of that, I’m the oldest guy on the team, the most experienced guy on the team. So I think this is a huge achievement for me, personally. To be available for every game is a huge thing in the NBA.”

However, the league, and team, is changing. Traditional big men are being filtered out of the game everywhere except for San Antonio. A challenge this past season for new Wizards coach Scott Brooks was how to handle Gortat when he had to guard smaller or more mobile non-traditional centers. He contended he could. Brooks was unsure. Washington also had to work in backup center Ian Mahinmi after giving him a hefty contract in the offseason.

Which leaves a question for Gortat and his team: What is their relationship going forward?

Gortat’s offensive role through the season evolved into one based in screens. His post-up opportunities dried up. Playing pick-and-roll with John Wall was a weapon until the postseason. Gortat’s scoring average dropped by almost three points, but his rebounding hit a career high. He was also lauded for being one of the league’s best screen setters in addition to averaging a double-double.

“Somebody has to take sacrifices on this team,” Gortat said. “We can’t have five guys scoring every game 20 points, it’s impossible. Nobody can do that. That’s why somebody has to be responsible for collecting rebounds and setting screens, and somebody else got to score. That’s how it is on this team, and I feel like this year it was me who was doing a lot of the sacrifices, and I got one of the most underappreciated positions in the NBA. I know there’s a lot of freaking idiots looking down the columns for the points telling me that, ‘you only score four or six points, team lost because of you.’ That’s how it is, that’s how people picture that. But people that know basketball, they know what I bring to the table.”

When Mahinmi was signed for $64 million last summer, it seemed apparent that Gortat’s time in Washington had a shorter number on it. Gortat remains under contract for two more seasons. Mahinmi is signed for three more. Gortat’s nine years in the league have led him to be well-versed in what other contracts can mean.

“I know how this business works,” Gortat said. “I’m the oldest guy on the team, they signed Ian, also, he’s younger than me, he got a longer contract. I just know how the business works, so I’m prepared for everything [this summer], just in case.”

Everything about Mahinmi’s first season has been a complication. Many felt Washington overpaid for the defense-first center in the offseason. It was also fair to question the level of investment in two centers older than 30 who will not be morphing with the league, which now often stresses outside shooting at the position. The pair makes up more than 27 percent of the team’s salary cap, yet can’t be on the floor together.

If Mahinmi was healthy, trading Gortat in the summer would appear possible, if not likely. However, Mahinmi was hurt throughout the season. First, knee injuries derailed him. Then, a strained calf in the second-to-last game of the regular season caused him to miss the first round of the playoffs and the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Mahinmi played in just 36 games last season. That’s a glaring contrast to Gortat’s durability. It also becomes a dilemma for Washington’s front office. Can it risk a trade of someone who plays all the time after such an unreliable first season from Mahinmi?

“I think it’s too early for me to say something,” Gortat said. “I’m just going to sit down in the summer and talk to my agent, talk to my people and I’m going to analyze if this is the right fit. Winning is the most important, at the end of the day. But right now, I had an average, maybe good season. The team had a great season — we went to the second round. I think everybody would like to take that result around the NBA.”

Gortat stressed that he can accept the meatgrinder role if the team is winning. This season, it won 49 games, the most since 1979, and made it to Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs a season after missing the postseason.

But, he also sounded like a man prepared for change in the coming months, which would cause him to show off his durability somewhere else.

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