WASHINGTON — The look was familiar, but the setting and context were different. Marcin Gortat was wearing a Wizards t-shirt and shorts after practice on Thursday, just as he did when he was a player. But Gortat’s time in Washington ended before they opened their expansive practice facility in Southeast Washington.
Gortat has also returned to the Wizards organization in a different role, as a temporary assistant coach. He said he will be with them for a week-plus, through their final preseason game on Oct. 14. Then, he will head back home to Florida to consider his options.
“Alright, here I am. Back in the business, no filter,” he joked when beginning his media availability.
The seed was planted months ago in Orlando. Gortat said he spoke with team president Tommy Sheppard and head coach Wes Unseld Jr. outside the visitors’ locker room following a game between the Wizards and Magic. Sheppard brought up the idea and Unseld Jr. endorsed it.
In September, a few weeks before 2022-23 training camp began, Sheppard followed up with a phone call. Gortat agreed to give it a shot, knowing he had some wisdom to share.
Gortat is doing just that, primarily with the Wizards’ big men. He’s worked extensively with Daniel Gafford. One of the main lessons he has been teaching is how to set screens.
Gortat was not only among the best in the league at setting screens during his playing days, but he is also credited with popularizing a specific type of screen. The ‘Gortat Screen’ is when a big man follows up a traditional pick with a second barrier in the lane to clear a pathway for the dribbler to attack the rim. The big man essentially goes to box out a rim-protector and get him out of the way for the guard to score.
“It’s always good to be around somebody that’s got a screen named after him,” Gafford said.
Gortat said he started doing the ‘Gortat Screen’ after studying on film how he could create more openings for John Wall and Bradley Beal. He noticed how a simple trick could make it tougher for defenses to defend Wizards pick-and-rolls.
So, he started doing it in games and not long after, other teams were copying him. Now the ‘Gortat Screen’ is part of everyday NBA terminology.
“If you [told] me 10, 15, 20 years ago that my screens would someday be one of the best in the world, I’d say ‘you’ve gotta change your drugs, man,'” Gortat joked.
Gortat said he had other opportunities this year to coach other teams in training camp. His screen-setting expertise is evidently in high demand.
Gortat believes he has plenty of valuable perspective to share with Wizards players, in part because of his own NBA journey. He was the 57th pick in the second round of the 2005 draft, yet he beat the odds to play 12 NBA seasons.
Gortat credits hard work and patience as two key factors for his success. He told Gafford and other young players to show up early to every practice and to move quickly past their failures.
While much of Gortat’s conversation with the media after Thursday’s practice involved catching up and laughing about old times, he also offered a more serious moment when discussing what he has told Wizards players in recent days. He has clearly done a lot of thinking about his life and what it meant to be an NBA player, now that his playing career is over.
“You’ve gotta understand, man. You are in an unbelievable situation to do what you do. You play basketball. I don’t have to remind everybody else what’s going on in Ukraine right now. People are dying over there. Families are losing homes and everything. If you come in here and you complain about a little pain, about missed shots or your touches; man, you’ve got issues,” he said.
“You’ve gotta understand this is the best job you’ll ever have, man. You’ve gotta come here and do your work. That’s the only thing you’ve gotta do. If somebody asks you to come here at 7, you be here at 6:30. If you do that, life is going to be beautiful.”
While Gortat is set to return home next week, it sounds like what happens after that could be mostly up to him. Unseld Jr. indicated he would like him to stick around.
“As long as he wants to stay, I love it,” Unseld Jr. said.