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Morning tip: Understanding history of Gortat's dust up with Wittman


Morning tip: Understanding history of Gortat's dust up with Wittman

Randy Wittman and Marcin Gortat find themselves in a peculiar yet familiar situation. They're not seeing eye to eye on what's going wrong with the Wizards in regards to their low-post play, but they need each other to succeed.

The Wizards (3-4) go into tonight's game vs. the Orlando Magic desperate to snap a three-game losing streak. To do so, and live up to their preseason billing, Gortat has to grab more than one defensive rebound in 27 minutes. And he has to produce better season stats than 10.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 47.3% shooting, all career lows for Gortat as a starter in the NBA.

This all began anew after a 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in the week, when Wittman referenced his "supposed big men" to call out Gortat, though not by name. Then Gortat responded after Friday's practice by calling out Wittman for allegedly violating an agreement to not air dirty laundry. It could get messier from here, especially if Nik Vucevic has his way in the paint vs. Gortat tonight, and it'll be even worse if the Wizards were to lose.

There could be light at the end of this tunnel if they can come to some sort of understanding, but this has been three seasons in the making with plenty of road bumps along the way:

  • Gortat drew first blood with Wittman soon after joined the Wizards in 2013, acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Suns. He publicly questioned his role in the offense during a four-game losing streak, was chewed out by his coach during a road trip in New York and could be seen profusely apologizing that morning. Wittman contended that Gortat is consciously drifting away from the basket rather than rolling hard towards it. It's a read and react that he's responsible for, not the coaches or the teammate who feeds him the ball. And two years later, this topic still is being batted around.

  • The spats have happened with teammates, too. Last season, Gortat and John Wall were on completely different pages when it came to pick-and-roll defensive responsibilities, and there were spirited discussions at practices between the two and coaches when they were mired in a losing streak. After Gortat blamed individual defense on a 38-point loss to the Cavaliers and teammates relying too much on help, Paul Pierce shot back. "That's what basketball is. I don't know what March is talking about," Pierce said. "Because when you play a team game you play help defense." For months after this, Gortat rarely made himself available for interviews and when he did he gave one- and two-word answers.

  • Gortat is the only true center on the roster. Drew Gooden is 6-10 but he's a three-point shooter and undersized to go against the likes of Andre Drummond (Pistons) in the low post. Kris Humphries played at the five some before coming here from the Boston Celtics but he's a face-up player and doesn't play with his back to the basket. DeJuan Blair is undersized at 6-7 and isn't as athletic or mobile. So barring trading Gortat for another player with a comparable salary and size, the Wizards don't have many options. Nene is Gortat's backup and had 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench when he last played, but back spasms kept him out vs. the Thunder. At 33, Nene can't be relied on to play starter's minutes. Gortat remains the best option and there's no reason why he shouldn't average 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. 

  • This is the final fully guaranteed year of Wittman's contract, with the 2016-17 season a partial guarantee. The Wizards are not just trying to get at least to the conference finals, which they were near reaching until Wall broke his left wrist in last season's semifinals, but must show stability and a unified front going into free agency. Yes, they want to be able to tell Kevin Durant, "Look how close we are to winning a championship. Look how good of a locker room we have, something you've grown accustomed to in Oklahoma City." This pitch isn't as believable if the Wizards have a .500 record, exit in the first round of the playoffs and having players choosing sides to deepen the turmoil. The Wizards are not getting rid of anyone at this point for the sake of doing so without a comparable replacement. Right now, that's not an option. 

  • If Wall can take the criticism, so can Gortat. Think back to two seasons ago. The Wizards hadn't made the playoffs in six seasons. They were struggling to get over .500 and they lay an egg against the lowly Celtics at home, losing in double overtime as Phil Pressey scored a career-high 20 points. Wittman was irate that Wall, who he believed took him for granted because he was an undrafted and unaccomplished player and only was on the court because Boston was riddled with injuries. Earlier in that same season, Wall blew off Wittman's critique when the Wizards lost to the Milwaukee Bucks at home and called into question his point guard's leadership -- after he'd signed a five-year, $80 million max contract and before Wittman was given a three-year extension. Regardless what anyone says about Wittman, he doesn't cower to star players in hopes he can keep his job and he's not about to dial it back for Gortat. Wall became an All-Star for the first time that season, and then again last season. Said Wall after he was reminded of that public spat: "You don’t want to hear it, but that’s the kind of relationship we have. Even when he was an assistant coach that’s what I’ve been dealing with of him saying, 'You ain't doing this. You ain't doing that.’ If you want to be the best player on the team, be the franchise guy, you’ve got to take that criticism in front of the team so those guys sit back and accept it." And before anyone says this isn't a common practice in the NBA, yes it is. Gregg Popovich has done it even with Tim Duncan his entire career. 

  • When Glen Rice Jr. was cut, it was because he was in the second year of a deal that wasn't fully guaranteed. So when he kept backtalking to Wittman at practice and showed him up on the sideline in a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors, he never appeared in uniform for them again. Rice was well-liked in the locker room, but even teammates understood why the decision that was made. And they painted this picture about Wittman that Gortat hasn't grasped. Wittman will vent. He will yell (and this goes for media, too). But when that moment is over, it's done. He'll say "Hello" to you the next morning and even smile. The point being, Wittman doesn't carry that bad blood with him and he expects players, who are supposed to be professionals, to be able to do the same. And that's how he wants his players to deal with each other so they don't hold on to negative feelings that could hurt the team long-term. Gortat said he has no desire to sit down and talk with Wittman about this latest episode, but he might not have a choice. 

MORE: Michael Jenkins gets exclusive interview with "Boogie Cousins" 

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More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

WASHINGTON -- With their regular-season opener set for Wednesday, the Wizards keep getting positive news with the injuries that have plagued them throughout training camp and the preseason. On Monday, both Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles made their practice debuts and Moe Wagner also practiced after getting hurt in the team's last preseason games.

Brown has been out all of preseason due to a strained left calf. Miles has also missed all of preseason after having surgery on his left foot in July. Wagner has been dealing with a bruised back after a collision with Joel Embiid of the Sixers. It sounds like he could be fully cleared soon.

Head coach Scott Brooks tempered expectations on Brown and Miles, noting they did not participate in a full practice and that the regular season is just two days away.

"They went through parts of practice, but not the meat of it, not the bulk of it. But it's a good step," Brooks said.

When asked if Brown and Miles would play on Wednesday when the Wizards battle the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks said he doesn't "anticipate that happening." But for them to get out there at all is a good sign given they are slated to be the top two small forwards on the roster.

With Brown and Miles likely still out for the opener, Brooks may have to go with a big lineup including Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans, or with someone with little NBA experience like Isaac Bonga. He had Bonga start in several preseason games with them out.

For Brown, this has been the longest injury absence of his young career. He had never missed this much time previously at any level.

He was just happy to be back on the court Monday, even if he wasn't yet cleared for contact.

"It's just one of those things where I was itching to get back. A lot of time off, it can be good and back. I just tried to use it as a learning lesson," he said. 

Brown and Miles practicing came one day after point guard Isaiah Thomas practiced fully for the first time since his left thumb surgery in September. With so many players out, Brooks wasn't able to get a full read on his new-look roster during the preseason.

But slowly and surely his players are coming back and it may not be long before the Wizards can suit up with the roster they had in mind during the offseason.


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Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

WASHINGTON -- Garrison Mathews, believe it or not, was not always a shooter. He didn't consider himself one in high school or even early in college. But now, at 22 years old, he has a two-way contract with the Wizards and the primary reason is because of his outside shooting.

Mathews, in a sense, has shot his way to the NBA and is now poised to be the first player in the league ever to come from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a crazy experience," Mathews said. "I enjoy being able to put Lipscomb on the map a little bit. Obviously, they haven't had much exposure and they've given me a lot. It's nice helping and giving back in a way."

So, how did we get here? Well, it wasn't always going to be about basketball. Mathews comes from Franklin, Tenn., where high school football is king. Mathews' grandfather was on the 1962 national championship team at Ole Miss. Mathews at one point was on track to follow in those footsteps.

He played wide receiver and tight end in high school and still misses the game.

"There's nothing like it," Mathews said of football.

But as he grew to 6-foot-5 with speed and an improving jumpshot, colleges came calling. And, once they did, Mathews made the difficult decision to focus on basketball full-time. 

Through his early years in college, Mathews realized playing in the NBA was a possiblity. So, he grinded through summers, sharpening his jumper. 

Slowly, but surely, they started falling more consistently.

"I don't know, it just kind of happened that way," Mathews said of becoming known for his shooting.

Mathews shot 34.9 percent from the perimeter his freshman year at Lipscomb. By his senior year, he was making 40.3 percent on eight attempts per game.

And it wasn't just the volume or the percentage that improved, it was the variety of shots he felt confident to even try. If anything has stood out about Mathews so far during his brief tenure with the Wizards, it is his ability to make shots without his feet being set.

Mathews made a shot in a preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 7 in which his feet were facing the sideline when he caught the ball off a screen. He turned quickly before rising and knocked it down.

Mathews can straighten out his shooting form mid-air and it's something not many players can do. He has worked on it for years.

"There's a lot of times in my workouts where I'm coming off screens or practicing [dribble hand-offs] where I'm coming off a screen and just jumping in the air. That's part of my regiment when I work out," he said.

Mathews has made shots like that consistently in practice, but doing so in a game is a different story. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has seen plenty of players come along who can't translate what they do in practices to games.

So, he's not ready to crown Mathews as the next J.J. Redick. 

"The percentages will be able to tell us eventually whether those are shots he can make or if we have to have better footwork," Brooks said.

"There's only a few guys that can really square up basically in mid-air and be able to have it. Brad [Beal] has the ability to do that and it took him some time. I don't know if he's one of them, Garrison."

The list of players who make those shots often certainly isn't long. Redick is one, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors can certainly be included. Kyle Korver of the Bucks also comes to mind.

Korver, in fact, spent some time with Mathews before the Wizards' game against Milwaukee on Oct. 13. Mathews says he has long been compared to Korver, so he listened intently to what Korver had to say.

"I appreciated that from him. It meant a lot," Mathews said.

"[He told me that] when he practices, when he does individual stuff, he goes as hard as he can. And then he works on his body almost as much as he does on the court."

Mathews is confident, but also realistic. He said he would like to follow Korver's path, but knows he has a long way to go to carve out a career like Korver has.

"I feel like later in my career I can be a little bit like him. Maybe not as great as him because he's a great shooter," Mathews said. "But it's cool being able to guard somebody that a lot of people compare you to when you were growing up."

Mathews has learned through his development as a shooter that hard work can lead to success and sometimes even in ways that are unexpected. Maybe someday he will be in Korver's shoes, offering advice to a young player looking up to him.