It took Marcin Gortat a moment to clear his throat, which followed a long pause, after being asked what he thought of being criticized by Wizards coach Randy Wittman for his lack of rebounding and playing big in a 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though Gortat's name was never mentioned, he doesn't like it.
"I've been called out in the media. People can see this differently but bottom line is I've been called out," said Gortat after Friday's practice in his first comments since then when he grabbed just one defensive rebound in 28 minutes. "I agree, I had one defensive rebound and I get that. I should have more. There's no secret about that. I got to do a better job. I truly believe that games like that will happen during the season. I just got to do a better job obviously. Games like that happen. Last year, too. ... I just got to do better."
Then came another pause before adding: "I don't think it was necessary to call me out in the media like that. It happened. I heard a different story in training camp, that stuff like that won't happen. But it happened so I disagree with what he did."
The Wizards are playing the Orlando Magic here on Saturday in hopes of ending a three-game losing streak in which they've been blown out each game.
In Gortat's third season in Washington, his relationship with Wittman occasionally been rocky when it comes to his rebounding, physical play and willingness to roll to the basket instead of fading away on jump shots.
"Nah, it is what it is," Gortat said when asked if he felt motivated as a result. "He's the man who's in charge and I'm a player. I have to follow the rules. I have to follow what he says. That's it. It's a business."
Has he sat down with Wittman to work it out?
"Nah, and I won't," Gortat said. "I got nothing to talk about."
For his part, Wittman tried to spread the blame more evenly earlier this week when his postgame comments were revisited.
"It didn’t matter who it is, if it’s the center, in 28 minutes we got to get more than one defensive rebound. Defensive rebounding is our strength. It’s been our strength. We got to get that back," Wittman said. "That’s everybody. I can’t have Bradley Beal out there playing 28 minutes getting one defensive rebound. John Wall. They’re too capable. It doesn’t matter who it is. We got to get back to doing that as a group."
I believe one of the reasons I didn't have many rebounds is that we're giving up 100 points in three quarters. There's not much to rebound is the first thing. The second thing, I'm challenging a lot of shots. The stat sheets don't lie. ... I've been helping on a lot of different rotations and I'm pretty much out of position over half of the time. The other half when I'm other the basket the ball most of the time goes in the basket. It is what it is. That's no an excuse at all. I'm saying what happened. I watched the game. I watched the statistic from the game. There probably were two, three situations where I probably should have the rebound in my hands and I just didn't secure the ball. But stuff like that will happen. ... It's a part of the game. I don't think I was the biggest problem in that game."
Gortat has been on a different page than his teammates, particularly Wall last season when it came to responsibilities on pick-and-roll defense. He was being benched in fourth quarters as Wittman went to smaller lineups, something that visibly angered the big man. Two seasons ago, Gortat drew Wittman's ire for questioning his role in the offense.
"To play correct defense, we need all five players to box out. It's a bottom line," said Gortat, who angered Paul Pierce last season when he blamed individual defense for a stretch of bad play and not team defense. "We need to play together. We need to be on the same page. If we go help on the small guy, the small guy got to go help to the big."
The low-post touches haven't been there for Gortat, who can become disengaged when he's not involved early. The Wizards (3-4) have relied heavily on scoring from Wall, Beal and Otto Porter. But Gortat, who went back to a 114-99 loss to the Atlanta Hawks last weekend, doesn't believe he needs the ball early and often. He wants them to do a better job as an offense to take advantage of mismatches.
"I just got to communicate with John. I think I've been doing a better job, I've been in touch with him the last two weeks constantly talking to him, sending messages telling him we have to activate different areas of our game," Gortat said. "I told him there are sometimes the other team is coming down, just like in Atlanta, when Jared (Dudley) was at the four, they automatically throw the ball to Paul Millsap. Paul Millsap was going at Jared. We have to do the same thing. For example, if (Mike) Muscala shows up in the game, you got to throw me the ball so I can attack him. We got to be smart about a lot of things. I talked to John about it. He agreed with me."