- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Deflection had become Marcin Gortat’s primary action. He would say he had to go, if there was even an opportunity to ask him to chat, for various reasons. From the middle of the season on, the gregarious center was in a self-imposed lockdown with the media. If he answered questions, his explanations were short and of the get-this-over variety. Most times he just slipped out a back door on the practice court or past a crowd talking to someone else in the locker room.

The change in Gortat’s public demeanor coincided with a change in his play and personal life. There was a dip in his production during December and January before he began to work his way back. By the end of the season, Gortat was playing exceptional basketball, a trend that carried through the first round of the playoffs and stalled when John Wall injured his hand in the second.

Whenever asked during the season what was tormenting him, Gortat would defer to his exit interview. Ask him then. He would answer.

That interview came Monday, when he was the first player to speak after the Wizard’s season ended with the subtlety of a dropped anvil. Gortat, sort of, explained what was going on.

“I would say in eight years of my career, the eighth year was pretty much the toughest one from the personal standpoint,” Gortat said. “I had some issues during the season. They definitely didn’t help me to focus on basketball. That part is on me. Definitely on me. I can’t blame anybody for that. I’m not going to talk about those issues. That’s why we call this personal business.”

Gortat spent a busy season meeting with various Polish groups both at home and on the road. His profile, particularly in his home country, rose during the first year of his five-year, $60 million contract. He insists pressure from his contract did not influence his play or the personal challenges he had.

He also shares the high level of irritation his teammates feel after losing to the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The extra kick to the shin for Gortat was that he ate something after Game 5 in Atlanta that made him sick for almost two days. He was ineffective in Game 6 because of the illness, playing a season-low 12 minutes. Gortat had thrown up in the locker room before the game despite absorbing fluid from multiple intravenous hookups over the prior 36 hours.

“I definitely didn’t play the way I wanted [during the season],” Gortat said. “I believe I started the season very well. I started the season very well. I had a big drop in the middle of the season. I finished the season pretty good. Playoffs, I would say, was up and down.

“Like I said, it was disappointing Game 6, I wasn’t able to play. As a basketball player, that was my game 100 of the season. Eight preseason games, 82 regular season, 10 games in playoffs. I really wanted to play. I really want to help and go out with these guys and battle. Unfortunately, something really killed me. Some kind of a food. I don’t know.”

His usage was also a topic for Gortat. During his mid-season lull, he would often be on the bench during the fourth quarter. When opponents used a smaller lineup, Wizards coach Randy Wittman would opt late for Kris Humphries, and when Humphries was hurt, turn to Drew Gooden to close the game. Gortat watched from the bench with clear irritation. As of Feb. 9, Gortat played 9.8 percent of fourth-quarter minutes, the lowest of any player who had played 500 total non-overtime minutes.

That changed later in the season. Gortat was used to finish games, even against the Toronto Raptors’ and Hawks’ smaller lineups. In the playoffs, Gortat played 45.4 percent of the fourth-quarter minutes available during the nine games he was healthy.

That discrepancy led to one of the more odd moments of the season when Wittman was asked during the first round of the playoffs why the change from Gortat not playing in fourth quarters to being on the floor in the end. He rebutted by asking when Gortat was not playing in fourth quarters previously.

“That’s coaching decision,” Gortat said. “I don’t have any influence on that. As a basketball player, of course I’m pissed. I want to compete. I want to show I’m a good basketball player. I believe I can close out the games. It’s coaching decision.

“There was many situations where I wasn’t supposed to be on the floor and I was on the floor. There are times I think I should be on the floor and I wasn’t. Coaching decision. That’s his decision. I’m not going to get into details. I’m going to talk to him about that and I’m going to talk about different things.

“We had a lot of guys that played well at that time. [Humphries] was playing amazing, getting 15, 20 boards a game. At that point, we needed a guy who was going to rebound the ball. That was also the time I didn’t play the best basketball. I can understand the decision. We had a stronger bench this year than we had last year, that’s why those decisions came out.”

Gortat said his focus now is rest. He wants to be ready to help the Polish national team compete in the FIBA EuroBasket beginning next month, and on July 9, he could face current Wizards teammate Kevin Seraphin when Poland plays France. Gortat said it may be his final season playing for the Polish national team.

With the season over, Gortat also gets a chance to regroup. He said his personal issues are behind him, though he’s still trying to close out one aspect of what went on.

“It’s my fault,” Gortat said. “It’s my fault. I can only blame myself and nobody else. I can promise Wizards fans, the whole organization, that I’m not going to put myself in that [position] anymore.”

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