It was media day around the NBA Monday, and the festivities proceeded mostly as expected in Washington D.C. John Wall talked about rehabbing after his off-season surgery, and he downplayed any rift with Bradley Beal. Scott Brooks talked about emphasizing defense before offense. Beal talked about putting wins before an All-Star berth. Off-season transplants to D.C. talked about making the transition to a new city. (Ian Mahinmi had dropped his daughter off at the first day of school earlier in the day; Andrew Nicholson had used D.C. bikeshare to tour the monuments; Trey Burke's been busy working, and the most notable sight he's seen is Tysons Corner, the massive mall in Northern Virginia). It was all fairly standard.
Marcin Gortat was the exception. He's the best, and he's too old to care about sugarcoating his answers with diplomacy. After last year's disastrous Wizards campaign, he spent the summer with Polish Olympians and giraffes and jet skis, and now he's back in D.C. Over the course of 45 minutes or so, I followed him from station to station to hear his thoughts on the new year. This circuit included a press scrum, one-on-one questions, and promotional questions for the team.
Here's what he had to say.
The state of the Wizards: "Fresh start. Everybody wants to clean up that big black spot that we call last season. I don't think we have to make any statements about who we want to be, what we want to achieve. It's about coming out every day and playing hard."
The state of Gortat: "I'm rejuvenated, I feel rested, I feel physically much better. I feel pumped up for the season, and obviously mentally I'm feeling much better."
The mood around the team: "You know what? I'll answer that question in a few weeks or few months. But what I can tell you now is that we've been here a week before [today], and it was fun to be here. It was fun to be here with these guys, playing pickup games. We didn't have any hardhead rookies that tried to step in front of the veterans when veterans said there was no foul. Everybody was running, everybody was doing the right things."
The end of last season: "Man, you don't want to know. It was bad. Let me tell you that, it was bad."
Sitting on the bench in fourth quarters last year: "I felt like I'd be able to help the team. With all due respect, there's no way Kris Humphries is going to finish the game in front of me. I love Kris to death, but he doesn't the have the same abilities I have. And we had a situation where he was playing in front of me. I'm not going to accept that."
Ignoring reporters toward the end of last season: "Well, listen, just because I didn't talk to you doesn't mean I don't like you. I was just protecting myself. I'd rather sneak out of the locker room and not speak to anybody than stand in front of you and say something stupid. Then you gotta write it, because it's your job. But I gotta take responsibility for it. I'd rather just sneak out and say, 'Not English', 'I don't speak English'. I'm a 10-year veteran, I know when I have to protect myself."
What's new this year: "Not only the players, but we have a new PR guy, we have a new guy in the weight room, a new trainer, a few new guys in marketing. Just because we're the Washington Wizards doesn't mean everything's the same. We have a lot of new things, including the carpet in the locker room. It's fresh. We got two coolers with drinks, not only one. There's a lot of new things around."
Off-season meetings with Scott Brooks: "We had opportunities to meet and talk about everything, but at the end of the day it's about the relationship during the season. Obviously, now it's easy to sit down and talk about the team. But the most important thing is going to be, 'What kind of relationship are we gonna have when we stand on the edge of falling into a deep, deep hole?'"
The plan under Brooks: "He wants to focus on defense, we know that. He's going to use our strengths. John's speed, Bradley's shooting, and my [ability] to roll to the basket. He had a lot of interesting systems back in the day in Oklahoma City, I'm interested to see how much of them he brings here."
Studying Brooks' offense this summer: "Well, I didn't study. I definitely didn't study over the summer, trust me. I'm not going to bullshit you here. I was studying different things. The beach and the pool."
How he spends most of his time off the court in D.C.: "Most of the time it's just resting. Between the games, the practices, you're resting a lot. It's not like you have different options. I can't really go play paintball with friends. I can't go on the jet skis and ride on the Potomac River right here. It doesn't work like that."
Leadership after losing Nene, Paul Pierce, and Trevor Ariza the past three summers: "We have a lot of young guys who are listening. And you gotta ask yourself, 'What's leadership?' I can't come to you and tell you you're going to make threes. Being the leader is making sure these guys are on time, ready for the game, ready for the meeting, on time for practice... Me, John, Bradley, we're making sure these guys are early here. Working on their game. Listening. Not complaining. This is the first thing we have to do. We can't control how they're going to perform on the court. But this is what you gotta do."
The state of Wall and Beal after these comments: "I heard this one comment—'We have moments when we dislike each other on the court'—It is true. It is true. But at the same time, it's nothing crazy where we have to panic. Me and John and Brad, we function with each other all time. It's not like we're hating each other. But we've got those moments. Hey listen, these guys are growing up as basketball players. I'm... maybe not growing up, but I'm a 10-year veteran, so I know how it is. Situations like that, you're gonna have on a team. Whoever said that, John or Brad, it was like that. And it'll probably be like that again. But it doesn't mean we can't win basketball games."
The massive free agent money around the league over the summer: "Obviously, the contract for Brad. Hey, he got the money. Big money. You know, it's crazy [around the NBA]. That's the market value. This is how it is. If we didn't give [Beal] the money, he was going to leave. We didn't invest all these years in him just for him to walk away. Now he has to play big for us."
Money talk in the locker room: "I'm not worried about that at all. I'm a veteran, so what I'm going to do, I'm going to be sitting on the sideline cheering for them. [clapping] "Keep going guys, harder, harder!" I'm 32, they're 25. I gotta save my body. But we'll be fine. I don't think we ever talk about money in the locker room. It's all about who we are, what we do. We all know John's gonna be a max player when [his contract] is done. Hopefully I'm gonna get 8 digits (laughs) when I'm done, too. It is what it is. My salary as a starter is pretty much a backup salary now. It is what it is, man."
How Scott Brooks can win respect in the locker room: "He doesn't have to do anything. We have to fight to get his respect. I mean, he's the chief. We're the little puppies running around. He's feeding us. We have to prove it to him."
The arrival of 2012 draft pick Tomas Satoransky: "I'm excited to have another white guy on the team, I’m excited to have an Eastern European guy on my team."
How Satoransky could help off the bench: "He'll be a tremendous addition. Point guard with that kind of size is just not normal to find. He's got incredible basketball IQ, great passer. Obviously, he needs a year or two to develop. But he's an international guy who's going to bring a lot of different things to the table in the locker room. That's what you need sometimes."
How Ian Mahinmi could help: "I wish to play with him at the same time, but I'm 99% sure that only one of us is going to play at the same time. He proved himself in this league, he's getting paid big money now, so he's secure. And I know there's not too many centers in this league who bring to the table what he brings. So we're in a good position. We need that shot blocking, we need that presence. First and foremost, we need energy, energy off the bench."
Battling Mahinmi for minutes: "It's business, you know? It's not like he's the first backup ever in the NBA. Every year I had to fight with someone to get minutes on the court. Even now, I'm saying I'm going to be a starter, but who knows? Maybe he's going to be the starter. But I played with Dwight Howard on his team, and I had to fight him every day. I'm prepared for that."
Kevin Durant on the Warriors: "That's his decision, you know. You can't get mad, because the guy's trying to win championships. He wants to open a new chapter in his book, and it's up to him. Obviously, they're gonna have a great team, and bottom line is... Oklahoma City and San Francisco, two different things you know what I'm saying? No hard feelings. To me, I don't care."
KG in retirement: "I remember KG since Day 1. I watched this guy all the time. He was my role model. I watched him, I played against him. I would be so ready to play. I would do everything possible just to switch on him, just to guard him. You know? He said a little trash talk to me, but I think we were cool. We were cool most of the time. He was just an unbelievable player."
His favorite movies over the summer: Warcraft, Jason Bourne.
His favorite holiday to celebrate: Christmas in Poland.
If he could play one-on-one against anyone from history: Hakeem Olajuwon.
Best place to eat on the road in the NBA: "Like in the locker room?" [No, off the floor] "Oh, L.A!"
Three favorite TV shows: "Vikings on the History channel, Game of Thrones, annnnnnd Spartacus, from back in the day."
Tired of answering giraffe questions at media day: "I became the godfather of a giraffe, man. Hundred times the same question. I don't own the giraffe, the giraffe is in the Warsaw Zoo. I'm a godfather, that's it."
His favorite off-season trip: "Key West. Got the jet skis going, just down there with friends. We had fun on the water. I upgraded the jet skis to a ridiculous power. We had a lot of power on the jet skis."
His favorite Game of Thrones character: "Ohhhhh favorite character. The big dude. The Mountain. He ripped this guy's heart... Popped his head like he was a little puppet. I love that guy."
The three best-dressed players in the NBA: "I'll go with J.J. Redick, and then..."
Teammate Jarrell Eddie yells down the hallway, "Hey March, man, I put you as one of my best dressed!"
Gortat: "Hey! You see Jarrell, you see, you're my man. This is why I love that guy. That's my dog, man."
Eddie: "His suit game is crazy."
Gortat: "I mean, I was ready to say Gortat, Gortat, Gortat, but she said you can't name yourself. And I'm like, 'Oh.'"