"I ain't going to back off from anything. You've got to cut my arm off or my head off to make sure I'm not going to play. As long as I can walk, as long as I can see everything, I'm going to be playing. I've been waiting for a chance to play as a starter for so many years and I don't want to give up like that. You'll be sure I'm going to be playing on opening night."—Marcin Gortat
This type of motivation and fire from one of the few talents on Phoenix's roster ensure a bright sunrise this winter in the desert.
The Western Conference is not nearly as stout as it has been in recent years thanks to the decline of the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, so the Suns will have an outside shot at the No. 8 seed considering they finished just below .500 last season (40-42).
With two-time MVP Steve Nash a near lock to average yet another double-double in points (14.7 PPG in 2010-11) and assists (11.4 APG in 2010-11, led NBA) this coming season, Gortat can be the second fiddle for the Suns while averaging a double-double of his own.
The 27-year-old led the Suns in rebounding last season after coming over from the Orlando Magic in a December 2010 trade. He will only improve on his 9.3 rebounds per game this season as a starter in the Phoenix front court.
Gortat's 13.0 points per game average is sure to shoot up as well as he logs more minutes for the short-handed Suns in 2011-12.
The fact that Phoenix will have Gortat rolling to the rim on opening night against the Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets on Dec. 26 means that Nash and the Suns will start off the shortened season strong and on a high note.
Gortat's demonstration of toughness will not go unappreciated in the Suns' locker room with veteran leaders like Nash and Grant Hill surely bound to take notice.
The result of Gortat's unselfishness will go much farther than his excellent on-court production for Phoenix this season; it will be the driving force that leads the Suns back into the postseason.
Toughness is often an underrated intangible in sports. But every great NBA champion from Dirk Nowitzki to Larry Bird has demonstrated it at some point during their memorable title runs.