WASHINGTON -- Standing outside the Wizards practice court following a team workout, Marcin Gortat said he wanted to talk. Specifically about criticism levied at Markieff Morris from the power forward's time with the Phoenix Suns. But first, Washington's starting center assigned homework.
Search the internet for a series of tweets from @mgortat circa late 2015, he said, around the time Morris' reputation hit rock bottom following multiple incidents while with the Suns.
The tweets, directed at an Arizona Republic columnist, who, in Gortat's opinion, unfairly slammed the then 25-year-old were found. The column was read. Gortat said he'd talk more before Washington's game on Feb. 6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Reminded that, um, this was kind of the biggest regular season game for the Wizards in years, Gortat said don't worry. He was ready. He also needed to talk, to explain the guy who rescued him from an island.
Before facing LeBron James, before the reporter's recorder even started doing its job, Gortat began. He talked for 15 minutes just on Morris -- the first 10 without a question asked. He discussed the kid he knew from their time together in Phoenix, the tag-team partner who is helping him now battle inside against NBA foes and helping the surging Wizards (34-21) shoot up the Eastern Conference standings.
The bah humbug column in question from the Arizona Republic's Paola Boivin, which clearly stuck with Gortat, was published Dec. 25, 2015 with the headline, "You Win At Last, Markieff."
Two days prior Morris threw a towel toward Suns coach Jeff Hornacek while leaving the court over an apparent lack of playing time.
"You’ve put the Suns in the challenging position of having to trade you, and they will probably have to package young talent to do it," Boivin wrote. "You’ve brought negative national attention to an organization in desperate need of a feel-good story and did nothing to help the status of a lame-duck coach who doesn’t deserve the grief."
Tensions were high all season. Phoenix traded his twin brother Marcus to Detroit one year after they each signed below-market contracts to remain together. Markieff Morris demanded a trade soon after. In February of 2016, Washington jumped in before the NBA trade deadline.
"This is the biggest problem I have," Gortat began on a February evening in 2017*. "The biggest problem I have is a certain lady that, first of all I've never seen before. Maybe she's seen me. I don't know her personally. Just to come at a player that you don't personally know. ...Just having interviewed after the game, in the locker room or after shootaround doesn't give you the right to say that you know the player very well."
"You don't know how he is in the locker room. You don't know how he is when [expletive] hits the fan. ...You also don't know what kind of environment this guy is coming from. ... You don't know if this guy has issues off the court at that time. ...There's a lot of different things that can have an influence on the player during the season, during a game," Gortat passionately explained."
Early in 2015 the Morris brothers were accused of "felony aggravated assault against a man the 25-year-old twins learned had sent 'inappropriate' text messages to their mother." The alleged victim filed a civil suit against the twins and three other men late in 2016. Both cases remain pending.
Gortat acknowledged he doesn't know all the details of the incident. He offers that neither do those that judge Morris.
"This is the thing I see the biggest problem with," Gortat continued. "She basically threw him under the bus like badly. He had some situations off the court. ... Because of those [incidents] you're writing an article like that? Destroying his image, saying he's a bad guy. He's got another 10-15 years in the league. And now you want to tell me that because of those [incidents] his reputation is going to be (tainted) for the next 10-15 years?
"People that write stuff have got to understand they have a lot of power, especially for the young players, to change their reputation. ... He is not a bad guy. ... He argues on the court to the referee, he's vocal with his teammates. I mean he yells at me every third game!?"
Gortat makes it clear that Morris is hardly perfect. "I'm not [just] going to kiss his ass," Gortat cracked. "He does have games where he's completely lost it, where's he not engaged mentally. Each one of us got those games."
Gortat recalled a game against Milwaukee in late December where Morris offered excuses after Bucks forward Jabari Parker scored baskets in rapid succession. "You're my guy, you're my wingman. I need you to do better, " an assertive Gortat told Morris. After letting the veteran's lecture sink in, Morris responded, 'My bad, you're completely right,' Gortat recalled. He also used this example to show the importance of environment. "This is the difference that happened here in Washington that didn't happen in Phoenix."
Since Jan. 1, Morris is averaging 17.6 points, 8.3 rebounds while shooting 40 percent on 3-point attempts. All would represent career-highs for a full season.
"Right now he's playing his ass off," said Gortat, who was traded by the Suns to Washington in 2013. "Thanks to the Phoenix organization. This guy is taking us to the playoffs."
Gortat offered a specific and personal example of why Morris is "a great teammate."
Following a mid-November loss that dropped Washington to 2-7, Gortat told reporters, "I think we’ve got one of the worst benches in the league right now.”
"When I called out the bench players -- I threw them under the bus, accidently. I made a huge mistake," Gortat said. "I felt disgusted with what I said and I apologized. I feel like I'm going to be apologizing until the end of the season.
"At that moment when you're walking into the locker room and nobody wants to talk to you. At the moment when everybody looks at you like, 'Look at this [jerk]. Like what the freak is he thinking.' That's the moment when you're on the island.
"That kid right here came to me first. 'What's up? How you doing? How you feel? Let's go get a lift. Let's play music. Let's get back to it.' He's the first one to grab your hand. He's going to talk to you. ... People don't understand that. As a teammate, that's huge. ...I love that part about him."
Gortat said that prior tweetstorm came up now because he'd been reminded that he once said put Markieff Morris in the right environment with the right people and watch him shine. "At the end of the day I look like a good GM now, which I don't want to be," he laughed.
All he wanted was to tell the world about the Markieff Morris he knows, the one who rescued a teammate in need from a lonely island.
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