CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The “Polish Machine” who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t quite land the Hollywood movie script ending in his return to Washington.
Don’t fret for Marcin Gortat. Sure, the Wizards, his former team, fought back from a 24-point deficit for a 125-118 win. He’s good with his new scene. Gortat also has thoughts on his former situation and the turmoil brewing.
Gortat made his first appearance in the arena he called home for five seasons Tuesday night since a June 26 trade sent him to Los Angeles for Austin Rivers. He wasn’t sure of how the local fans would react. His journey in Washington ended bumpily, but the overall ride coincided with a positive turn for the franchise. The Wizards reached the playoffs in four of his five seasons.
“Well, obviously a very emotional moment,” Gortat said of his return. “Bottom line is that we came here to get a win. Unfortunately, we lost today. …It was great to be here.”
His arrival in 2013 following a trade with Phoenix led to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2008. Three more postseason trips followed as did Mohawks and fabulous quotes. Gortat provided the power just before the NBA veered away from hulking frontcourts. His fame and fortune increased in Washington. His affable and oversized personality attracted fans.
Fans that watched the 6-foot-11 screen-setting center consistently provide double-doubles graciously applauded for the ex-Wizard during pre-game introductions. Gortat, who started 400 of 402 games played in Washington, appreciated the gesture.
“It was weird to sit on that side of the court and play against your guys,” Gortat said. “It was tough, very emotional and weird, but it’s business.”
Gortat wasn’t immune to criticism from fans and teammates during his time in Washington. Some of those dings were justifiable. He complained about his lack of offensive touches received in latter seasons. His candor or choice of words played a part in certain flare-ups, including a tweet last season about a "team" win during a stretch with John Wall sidelined that started. That former controversy appears quaint by this week's standards.
Part of the reason he now plays for the Clippers is that the relationship with his former pick-and-roll partner soured. When disapproval only went so far up the Wizards’ player hierarchy, it often stopped with the man in the middle.
The Wizards entered Tuesday’s game flailing. Many of the same players from prior seasons remained. Not Gortat, meaning any blame must land elsewhere. With drama engulfing the Wizards, Gortat proudly felt vindicated. He waited for the pack of reporters to clear before expressing such thoughts.
“Listen, the way I was traded out of that team, it looked like I was the cancer of the locker room,” Gortat told NBC Sports Washington. “I think that thing was verified and it was complete [expletive]. It is what it is now.”
Pregame Gortat wondered if the Wizards would join the ranks of teams creating tribute videos for returning players. He would be left wanting.
Rivers, the son of the Clippers head coach, received one in October upon his first arrival back with the team he played for over four seasons. Gortat remembered.
As the formal postgame scrum ended, the ex-Wizard made it clear he had thoughts to share and asked to be asked about the lack of a video tribute.
“Well, what do I think about that? A lot of guys around the league are getting tributes. It ’s obviously up to the organization, but I guess Austin Rivers did enough to get his tribute, but I didn’t do enough to get a tribute here,” Gortat said to NBC Sports Washington. “A few guys around the team understand. It was kind of weird.”
Taking the court with his former teammates was more different than weird, but ultimately cordial and competitive.
“Brad (Beal) fouled me a few times. He admitted he fouled me, but I didn’t get a call,” a chuckling Gortat told NBC Sports Washington. “John, yeah, we had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, there’s no bad blood. We spoke at the end of the game, said good luck, stay healthy.”
Ultimately, Gortat made peace with his time in Washington. The fond memories outweighed the knocks. Members of the Wizards organization stopped by the Clippers locker room for a chat and a laugh. Gortat bear hugged Wizards equipment manager Jerry Walter to the ground.
The loss stung. Los Angeles does the stinging most nights. The Clippers entered with a five-game winning streak. Their 11-6 record puts them among the Western Conference elite. Gortat’s minutes are down (18 per game). Such limits would have bothered him in Washington.
At 34 and knowing his NBA life could be fleeting with his contract expiring this summer, Gortat is cool with his new world.
“I’m great. I’m great where I am,” the 12-year veteran said. “I get to play and help the team as much as I can either on the court, off the court, in the locker room. I’m going to try to help my team and lead us as much as I can. We have great chemistry and a great team.”
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