Gortat happy to feel ‘love’ to stay in Washington

KYLE HIGHTOWER
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Feeling appreciated goes a long way with Marcin Gortat.

It helped him make his time on the free agent market this summer short and sweet.

Though one of the most coveted big men available, he barely spent a day mulling offers before he agreed to sign a five-year, $60 million deal on July 1 to remain with the Washington Wizards. The biggest reason was the team showed him the most “love.”

Now, while some free agents around the league are still figuring out the best place for them to play, the 30-year-old Polish center said he’s relishing getting to spend this week watching Orlando Pro Summer League games before he officially can sign his new contract Thursday.

“For the whole free agency I was patient. I was actually pretty calm. I didn’t really panic too much,” Gortat told The Associated Press. “I knew I had a great season. I knew I had a really good result with the team being successful and I knew everything was going to be fine.”

Gortat was looking forward to exploring offers from suitors around the league, but got a surprise visit in Poland from a delegation of Wizards executives and coaches that included head coach Randy Wittman just prior to the start of free agency. Officials weren’t yet allowed to discuss re-signing him, but were there to assist with Gortat’s basketball camp.

The gesture, though, spoke volumes.

“That was obviously huge. They showed a lot of love,” Gortat said. “They showed that I’m a really important part and piece of the team when they came over to Poland and helped me out. And I was definitely excited, so it was just an easy decision for me to pick Washington.”

But Gortat didn’t always have confidence that things would work out this well.

He was traded from Phoenix to Washington prior to the start of this past season in a deal that sent Emeka Okafor and a first round draft pick.

It ended a three- year stint with the Suns in which Gortat arrived with lofty expectations, but wound up at times questioning his role with the team after Steve Nash was dealt to the Lakers.

But in Washington the 6-foot-11 center found himself an important part of the Wizards’ scheme. It led to his averaging 13.2 points and a team-high 9.5 rebounds last season, while starting 80 regular season games. He also became a vocal presence in a locker room that already featured all-star John Wall and Bradley Beal.

“It’s great when people want you,” Gortat said. “I didn’t have that comfort back in Phoenix, especially in the last year when they traded me. It was kind of obvious that I was going to get traded. Being on a team where they love you and like you…then life is beautiful.

“You’re putting everything else to the side.”

Gortat’s return also provides even more continuity for a Washington team coming off its first playoff appearance since 2008. In addition to Gortat, the Wizards have already extended Wittman and backup point guard Andre Miller. They’re hoping to do the same with free agent forward Trevor Ariza.

It’s all left Gortat with lofty goals for the future.

“The chemistry we have…we’re going to be a pretty good team the next few years,” he said. “We’ve shown that we have the (ability) to go to all the way conference finals. Hopefully one day, we can compete for the championship.”

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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