Marcin Gortat seems like a pretty funny guy. He comes across as personable and kind of talkative. In that respect, he is the polar opposite of the guy with whom he's going to battle for playing time at the center position. But just because Marcin is friendly, doesn't mean he's not hungry to win his way into Alvin Gentry's rotation and onto the court.
"Of course, it is competition," Gortat said about the battle with Robin Lopez for the starting center position.
"He's big, skilled. I know there's a second Lopez (Robin's brother, Brook) who's really good. Robin, he has a big opportunity right now. He's a starting big man and he's still got a lot to learn, just like me. But I'm 100 percent sure there's a bigger chance I'm going to play here than I'm going to play in Orlando."
That word "opportunity" means a lot for Gortat. He's played behind the best young big man in the game, Dwight Howard, for the past four years and while the practice sessions have been grueling lessons, Marcin is itching to get on the court in more games. He can't help but look at the 22-year-old Robin Lopez and think that the starting job is there for the taking.
"Being in Orlando and sitting on the bench and playing five or six minutes a game wasn't easy. I'm 26 years old right now and after the game you're coming back home and watching other young guys playing in different teams," Gortat said about his time with the Magic.
"Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and other guys and you just realize you are 26 years old and you're entering your best years in your NBA career and all of a sudden you're sitting on the bench and you play five, six minutes a game. You've got to be frustrated. And all of a sudden you've got this opportunity -- you're going to the team with a great point guard, with a perfect style and what else you need? I'm 100 percent sure I'll be good."
The Polish big man, who knows Goran Dragic from their days playing in Europe, is focused on two things: playing defense and rebounding the ball, and running the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash. He understands that the Suns need him to be a physical, inside defensive presence, but he's also looking forward to being rewarded by Nash for running the floor and playing hard.
"I'm 100 percent sure coach (Gentry) wants me to play pick-and-roll with Steve and I'm looking forward to that."
In addition to scoring on the pick-and-roll and on offensive rebounds, Marcin said he's confident in his 15- to 17-foot jump shot and won't hesitate to shoot the ball if he's open. He was also advised by Magic backup point guard Jason Williams that if he runs the floor hard every time, Nash will find him.
While Gortat speaks enough Serbian to talk with Dragic and he's sure they will be friends on the team, the focus in his comments is about playing with Steve Nash and that means being the Suns' starting center. It should be fun watching Gortat and Lopez battle for that spot. It can't help but make both of them better and while Marcin is used to Dwight's elbows in practice, he's not experienced Robin's ferocity, either.
"I'm excited. I'm 100 percent sure I can make a difference in this team. I can help this team," Gortat said about the Suns, who he considers the team that helped turn his career in a positive direction.
He recalled playing in Phoenix in December 2008 when he had to come into the game after Dwight Howard left in the fourth quarter with an injury. Gortat played very well (eight points, six rebounds, 13 minutes) in that game and called it a "turning point." Prior to that, his role wasn't well defined and his playing time was spotty, but from that point forward he was established in the Magic rotation as the backup to Howard.
Then a rookie, Robin Lopez started that game for the Suns in place of Shaquille O'Neal and had four points and one rebound in 20 minutes. I am sure Gortat remembers that, as well.