In late December, 2010, then-newcomer and unproven Suns backup center Marcin Gortat committed the bold, controversial act of publicly and bluntly criticizing his teammates for poor defensive effort. Gortat had been a member of the Suns for less than 2 weeks when a 123-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers (at the time, a team with a worse record than the Suns) set him off to challenge his new teammates with statements such as:
"We have to be more serious about everything we do. When you pass through that door up front over there, this is time when you pack it in and are getting ready for the game or the practice. We got to read the scouting report, which guy likes to do what, and learn it. It's a lot of work."
Is it time for Gortat, now a team leader, to again speak up publicly about the sloppy lack of effort we've seen from the Suns this season?
As Seth Pollack noted at the time of Gortat's quote 13 months ago:
He specifically calls out his teammates for lack of preparation and attacks the very culture of the Phoenix Suns. This isn't a team used to wearing their game face all the time. This is a team who wants to play loose and have a positive, upbeat attitude.
Gortat was also indirectly but undoubtedly calling out team leaders Alvin Gentry, Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Who else had set this tone and culture that Gortat found unacceptable? For a team that had made the conference finals only 7 months prior, led by these same men, to be called out by a newcomer and a backup was a remarkable situation.
There was some immediate short-term success as the Suns held their next three opponents under 100 points, but old habits and better opponents returned and the Suns surrendered 132 points once in January of 2011, and 121 points two other times en route to a season total 25th place out of 30 in DRtg.
This year's edition of the Suns is currently 24th of 30 in DRtg after last night's 122-99 shellacking at the hands of a Dallas Mavericks team that was missing its starting point guard, Jason Kidd.
It can be said then, that Gortat's words didn't have much impact to the bottom line. Sadly, the Suns stink even worse overall since then and are about the same level of failure on defense. We can debate whether the Suns persistent defensive woes are due to scheme, simple lack of talent or lack of effort and intensity.
It's a combination of these things, but the Suns have lost 4 games out of 20 so far by at least 20 points, including 2 of the last 3. They've lost to fellow bottom-feeders the Raptors, Hornets, Cavs and Nets at home. We can say the Suns lack talent, need another scorer or two, etc. But is this roster truly only capable of winning 1 game out of 20 against a quality opponent, at home over a Blazers team that had played the night before?
Even the Warriors have been able to defeat the Bulls and Heat so far, the Wizards beat the Thunder, the Bucks beat the Lakers, etc. Yet the Suns have, nearly without exception, been destroyed when facing good teams. Are they truly giving maximum effort? Or are they starting to tune out the coaching staff and pack it in for the season, especially as soon as games get out of hand?
Back to Gortat, he also had this to say in December, 2010:
"I'm trying to get some rebounds and stops, but unfortunately there is not too many opportunities to rebound because the 76ers are scoring 120-something points. It is just frustrating. It is frustrating as hell; I'm not going to lie. It is a reality check for me, going from a team who is winning to a team who is losing and we are the worst defensive team in the league."
That frustration he felt right there is healthy. He wasn't used to being on a team where defensive collapses happen regularly, and didn't intend to become used to it. But, has he now become used to it after over a year on the Suns? Is he speaking out privately like this, but no longer publicly?
Gortat has been the most dependable Suns player this season, so there is no questioning his desire and effort to win. What I'd hate to imagine is that the fail all around him has numbed him to failure. I want it to still piss him off. Whether it would do the team any good or not, I'd be happy to hear Gortat rant about the BS happening around him on the team. And besides, the Suns look like they've already resorted to the "throw darts at the board and hope something works" stage of the problem-solving process this season, so what the hell? Why not?
Rant on, Marcin! I hope that you're mad as hell, because a lot of us fans certainly are.