Marcin Gortat says lack of character in younger players a big problem for the Suns

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PHOENIX — Marcin Gortat was among the veteran Suns players who weren’t at all happy with the way this season went in Phoenix. Along with Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley, Gortat is a holdover from better times the team experienced while playing with the likes of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, two of the game’s ultimate professionals.

As things have changed and with the Suns now in a full-fledged rebuilding situation, there was a need to integrate younger players into the fold, and the pain of this process was evident as Gortat spoke with reporters on the event level of the US Airways Center on Thursday morning.

Gortat was brutally honest in his assessment of the team’s issues, and ripped the lack of character displayed by the team’s younger players.

“I think we need some changes,” he said. “We need some serious conversations. We need to look in the mirror and each one of us has got to ask if we did everything that was necessary to win, or if we did everything that was necessary to perform at 100 percent. But first of all I’m going to look at myself. I’m going to try to correct myself and hopefully the management and the front office people will do the right thing.”

When asked what skill set needed to be improved on the roster, Gortat pointed to issues more mental than physical.

“Well, I would say we are missing character,” he said. “We are missing just strong minds on the team. We are just weak, mentally weak, basically. I would say that we just need more talent. We need more talent, we need more athletic, energetic guys, and people that want to compete and fight. That’s it.

“But like I said, that’s a decision to make by the people in the front office. I’m just going to look at myself and try to correct my mistakes and try to be better next year.”

Gortat was pressed on the character issue, and essentially said that there was a segment of the team that didn’t seem to care whether they won or lost.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the player,” he said. “If you don’t feel that you’ve got to work, if you feel comfortable that somebody’s coming into your house and punking your ass by 30 points every night, it’s not right. It’s just not right. I’ve been in the league six years now and I’ve never been in a situation like that.”

Gortat said that he tried a few times to provide some leadership, but that ultimately he didn’t feel like he had the cache to get the attention of his teammates.

“I tried at least to approach a few younger players during the season,” he said. “I don’t think I had the impact. I don’t think as a player, a six-year veteran, I have that impact yet. Definitely Jermaine O’Neal was the guy that was trying to convince a lot of the young guys to perform better.

“But I’ve got to tell you, when I was making it in the league, I was listening. I was listening and I had a lot of great veterans, I had a lot of great strong-minded people on the team. If I had tried to act like a smart-ass, or I tried to pretend like I know everything or understand everything, I’d get slapped in the head automatically, and [Stan Van Gundy in Orlando] would bring me back to earth. Like I said, I grew up in a great system. These young guys, there’s a lot of young guys who just think they’re better than they really are.”

Gortat didn’t name names, of course, but he didn’t have to. A cursory glance at the Suns roster will tell you that any issues that may have stemmed from “young players” would likely have to involve Michael Beasley, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, or Wesley Johnson. But to be fair, everyone on the roster except for O’Neal and Luis Scola is younger than Gortat.

It will be an interesting offseason for the Suns, and Gortat will undoubtedly see plenty of the change he called for a day after the team’s 25-57 season came to its merciful conclusion. In addition to personnel changes, whether through the draft or free agency, the team needs to address head coach Lindsey Hunter’s interim situation, as well as the future of GM Lance Blanks, who has just one year left on his contract.

Gortat didn’t exclude himself from the criticism, but made it clear that he was among those on the team who want nothing to do with another year like this.

“We’ve got to be tougher with everything we do, including me,” he said. “Starting with me. Just because I’m talking about our whole team doesn’t mean I’m doing a great job. I’ve got to be tougher, do everything 100 percent better, and like I said, I never want to be in a situation like that for the rest of my life.

“It was so uncomfortable,” he said. “It was a crazy season and no one wants to have a season like that again.”

Report: John Wall’s extension includes player option

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The Wizards had John Wall under contract for the next two seasons then signed him to a super-max extension that locks him in for an additional four three years.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised the Wizards gave Wall a player option considering their leverage.

Wall’s extension projects to pay him $169 million over four years – $30 million more than another team’s projected max offer over the same span. Even if Wall wanted to stay in Washington, this was the only offseason he could’ve ensured receiving the super-max rate. Had he rejected the extension now, he would have been eligible for the super max only by making an All-NBA team either of the next two years – far from guaranteed.

Still, the Wizards gave Wall everything – the highest-possible salary, max raises, a player option and a trade kicker.* There’s value in pleasing the franchise player. Wall will be the team’s third-highest-paid player for the next two years (behind Otto Porter and Bradley Beal), which might have bothered Wall if not for the super-max extension about to kick in. This deal makes locker-room harmony more likely.

But it also allows Wall to hit free agency in 2022 rather than 2023. Maybe that won’t matter. Wall’s salary option-year salary projects to be $47 million when he’s 32-years-old. I doubt Wall opts out then, though it’s certainly possible.

Effectively, if Wall is worth that much in 2022, he’ll be a free agent. If he’s not worth that much, Washington committed to pay him.

*The trade kicker is unlikely to to matter unless the salary cap unexpectedly increases significantly. It can’t lift Wall’s salary above 35% of the salary cap in the season he’s traded, and he’ll likely be at or above that mark throughout the extension anyway.

Basketball Hall of Famer John Kundla dies at 101

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Kundla, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died Sunday. He was 101.

Son Jim Kundla said his father died at an assisted living facility in Northeast Minneapolis that he has called home for years.

Kundla coached George Mikan and the Lakers in the 1940s and 1950s, helping them become the NBA’s first dynasty. He went 423-302 before retiring at the age of 42 and went on to coach his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Kundla was the oldest living Hall of Famer in any of the four major pro sports.

Kundla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. A year later, he was named one of the league’s 10 greatest coaches as part of the league’s “NBA at 50” celebration.

 

Report: Magic signing Marreese Speights to one-year, minimum contract

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It’s a tough market for free-agent centers, as Marreese Speights learned the hard way.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

I wonder whether Speights regrets opting out with the Clippers, who were also slated to pay him a minimum salary. Not only is he stuck with a low-paying deal, he’s on a worse team and one with center depth.

Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo should play only center, where Speights is best. Speights can also play power forward, but Aaron Gordon should get all his minutes there. Maybe Jonathan Isaac should, too, though it’s more tolerable to play him at small forward while the rookie adjusts to the NBA.

Simply, there won’t be much playing time for Speights unless Orlando makes a trade (maybe this is a harbinger) or plays too big of lineups (a lesson it should have learned last season).

Likewise, the Clippers will be fine, though less versatile, without Speights. The acquired Willie Reed (free agency) and Montrezl Harrell (Chris Paul trade) to play behind DeAndre Jordan.

Speights clearly isn’t essential, but he has expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc. He defends with effort, though not necessarily well. There’s a place in the league for stretch fives like him. But he turns 30 in a couple weeks, and his stock is clearly low. At least he’ll have a chance for a bigger payday next summer.

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.