In his 12th NBA season and first with the Clippers, Marcin Gortat is in an unfamiliar place: on the bench.
One week since starting his eighth game this season and 172nd in a row, Gortat hasn’t played at all in the Clippers’ last three games. Coach Doc Rivers has opted for a center rotation of Boban Marjanovic, the new starter, and reserve Montrezl Harrell.
Gortat naturally isn’t happy with the decision but said he won’t rock the boat.
“It’s obviously a new look and different situation for me,” he said. “I’ve never been completely off the rotation like that, but you know it’s a coaching decision. You just got to accept that. As hard as it is on me I still gotta be a professional about everything.”
Acquired in a trade with the Washington Wizards in June, Gortat averaged 3.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 16.6 minutes through eight games before Marjanovic started for the first time as a Clipper last Friday against the Orlando Magic.
Those averages all hover near career lows that Gortat hasn’t approached in nearly a decade.
Wearing team-issued black warmup sweats, Gortat didn’t play a second in Thursday night’s 116-105 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Marjanovic made his third consecutive start and had four points and four rebounds in 12 minutes.
Harrell scored 19 points with six rebounds and three blocks.
Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari each scored a team-high 20 points but Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 48. The Clippers couldn't overcome a 13-point deficit in the second half.
Gortat “wasn’t thrilled but it wasn’t to a point where he was upset” after being told of the lineup change last week, Rivers said, but “overall he’s been great. You can tell a little bit by practices and he’s been practicing great, practices hard and that’s all you hope for. I think he’s been very supportive on the bench.”
In Washington, Gortat was part of a fractious locker room where his rift with guard John Wall went public last season.
In L.A., he has found a chemistry that is "one of the best I’ve ever seen in the NBA.” As such, he has taken care not to pout, saying that he hopes to set an example for younger teammates.
“I’m not panicking, that’s a long season,” Gortat said. “I’ve been in this league for 12 years, I’ve seen things happen, so the most important thing is you don’t want to be caught off-guard when your number is called and you’re not ready.
“That’s the worst thing.”
Rivers says he will rotate three centers as he sees fit and that nothing is permanent.
That fit going forward remains somewhat unclear, however, in a league where smaller lineups are the norm and big men who can’t spread the floor are becoming extinct.
Gortat has attempted 20 three-point shots in his career and the value of perhaps his best skill — setting screens — has been diminished as opponents increasingly switch screens, which creates more isolation.
After an Oct. 31 game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the last game Gortat started, Rivers said that he was displeased by Gortat and Harrell’s ineffectiveness in transition situations rolling to the basket after setting drag screens.
The next day, Marjanovic started for the first time.
Gortat is part of two of the 10 Clippers lineups that have played at least 10 minutes together and those lineups have registered the sixth- and ninth-highest plus/minus ratings.
Among centers averaging at least 15 minutes a game, he ranks among the bottom third in defensive field-goal percentage.
“At the end of the day I don’t think I had terrible games,” he said. “I had two, three games where I finished with zero points and I was completely unproductive but at the same time I don’t think I was playing my best basketball game yet. This is how we play. We don’t play with really too many pick and rolls we have a lot of [isolation] plays. ...
“You’ve got to accept that. Like I said, I’m staying ready, I’m staying ready, I’m not upset about that. That’s a coaching decision, as long as we’re winning, I’m OK with that.”