- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2014

Sure and rapid answers came from the elevated mouth of 6-foot-11 Marcin Gortat.

The Washington Wizards center had taken dozens of questions as he waded his way through media day at Verizon Center on Monday.

His new mohawk — a shallow strip of centered hair used to counter a traitorous hairline — along with an edged beard was often talked about. On the opposite end of the practice floor from a “1977-78 World Champions” banner, what’s next for the Wizards was a topic. He was even asked if he had been trash-talking teammate Nene about Poland’s recent four-set dispatching of Brazil to capture the men’s volleyball world championship.

Though here, when asked what he would order at the Cheesecake Factory, Gortat quickly spat out answers and counted the courses on his abnormally large fingers as he went. He darn near left out the pink lemonade, but got that in at the end.

“I go every week,” Gortat said.

For all the talk about point guards John Wall and Bradley Beal — Beal anointed them the best backcourt in the league Monday — and Paul Pierce’s arrival, much of the Wizards‘ effort to move past the Eastern Conference semifinals will lay with Gortat.

In late July, Gortat was paid by the Wizards to come back and anchor the middle with ambidextrous hook shots and anger. The total dollars in his contract were bolstered by its length. Five-year, $60 million deals in the NBA are hard to trade. Which puts Gortat in D.C. for what is expected to be a continued ascension by the Wizards.

“I think it’s just more fun now,” Gortat said of post-signing basketball. “You’re not thinking about where you’re going to be; how your next year’s going to look. You’re secure for five years. I got the security that I am going to be here. Now is the fun part: play basketball.

“Just because I signed a contract, I’m not going to let young guys come out and abuse me. It’s impossible.”

Washington is Gortat’s third NBA stop. He was drafted 57th overall in 2005 by the Phoenix Suns. The Suns traded Gortat to Orlando for “future considerations” that year before reacquiring him in a 2011 trade. They then moved him to Washington Oct. 25, 2013.

The Suns gave him a chance to flourish. He averaged a career-high in points and rebounds in 2011-12 and was the starting center the two seasons before he was sent to Washington.

With the Wizards, Gortat became important enough to bestow a five-year contract on once he became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. The negotiations were swift and to Gortat’s liking following a season when he averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds.

“I was surprised that I didn’t have more questions about it,” Gortat said. “I didn’t have problems with it. It went really smooth. I think second or third day after the free agency window was open, I actually signed a contract, which, obviously, was really cool for me.”

Gortat finds pleasant things when he looks around the city. There is, of course, a Polish ambassador. Three airports means about five flights a day, by his count, to Orlando, where he lives. His private chef makes Polish staples like pierogies and galumpkis. Gortat made it to his first Nationals game last weekend. He also bought a new house in the area after signing his contract.

It’s not all Smurfs and rainbows, however.

“Do I want to live in D.C. forever? I don’t know. I’m definitely going to be here for the next five years, I can promise you that,” Gortat said. “But, we’ve still got to work on those roads around town. I mean, just because I signed a new contract doesn’t mean I’ve got to buy rims every year.”

Behind Gortat are questions. Nene could play center if necessary, though he has not played more than 61 games in the last four seasons. He started just 37 last year because of nagging Achilles’ tendon pain and an MCL sprain in his left knee.

When camp opens Tuesday, only Daniel Orton and Kevin Seraphin are listed as the other centers.

“If behind me is sitting Shaq and Dwight Howard, I still want to play 48 minutes,” Gortat said. “If I don’t have anybody behind me, I still go hard for 48 minutes. I never look at that, ‘If I play weak or I try to save myself, somebody is going to get in.’ [Or] ‘I have to save myself because there is nobody else on the bench.’ I don’t do that. I go hard every time. In the worst-case scenario, I die in the last eight minutes.”

The backups received a fraction of the attention Gortat did Monday. Finally done with his group session, Gortat recorded a motivational speech for a struggling youth team. He then did a promo for a TV station in one take, “This is Marcin Gortat of the Washington Wizards, and you’re watching …”

With that, he high-fived the television reporter and headed up the back steps, rich, mohawked and ready.

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