Dressed in a red polo shirt and green camouflage shorts, Emeka Okafor sat with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld on Saturday to watch his new team take on the Houston Rockets in the NBA summer league.
Okafor had never traveled to Las Vegas for summer league until last weekend, but he wanted to get a head start on meeting his teammates and the coaching staff less than a month after being dealt from New Orleans.
He has finally allowed the deal to sink in, and is more encouraged about the move, since it pairs him with another interior presence like Nene and places him in a big city for the first time in his career.
“I’m happy. When you hear you’re traded, outside of the initial surprise and shock of being traded, I knew there was a lot of possibility in D.C. I’ve heard good things about the organization and every day that goes by I just like the situation more and more,” Okafor said. “It’s a good situation all around. My wife [Ilana] and I are city folks. To play in a major, major market is going to be interesting. I think the young guys we have, it can be nice. It can be a nice season again.”
Okafor worked out on Sunday at Impact Basketball with Wizards brass and said that the left knee that forced him to miss 39 games is better and shouldn’t be a hindrance when training camp begins. “Everything is good. Everything has progressed at a good rate, so I’m good to go,” said Okafor, who has clearance to play five-on-five basketball. “I haven’t played yet. There haven’t been that many pickup games right now. More because of that, than anything else.”
Okafor added that he is not overly concerned about the injury and has spent his offseason program ensuring that the area around the problem is strengthened so that is doesn’t happen again. “My left knee just had some soreness and tightness and we had some trouble getting it down,” Okafor said, explaining his situation last season. “I never had an issue with my left knee and it’s one of those things. I was rehabbing with the intention of trying to come back and play, but just the timeline didn’t allow for it. I’m pretty good now.”
The 6-foot-10 Okafor is expected to play center for the Wizards but he believes that he and Nene can be interchangeable big men. “It doesn’t matter. To be a four or five, it’s who is going to guard the bigger guy,” Okafor said. “Traditional roles of four or five now, to each his own. It kind of depends on what you want to do.”
At his introductory news conference last month, Okafor said teaming with Nene was the most intriguing aspect of the deal. “When I first heard that I got traded here, the first thing I thought was, me and Nene are playing along side each other. He’s been a difficult guard for me and I’m looking forward to battling against him in practice and getting better in the games. I like it. I like playing that style of basketball. I think, I just like it. I like the idea of having two warriors out there at the same time, just battling. Similar mindsets, I think we can complement each other pretty well.”
A week after he arrived, the Wizards drafted Bradley Beal with the third overall pick and they have also reached out to free agent John Lucas III, Okafur’s former high school teammate, as a potential backup point guard. Okafor hasn’t done much recruitment but did catch up with Lucas when the two crossed paths in Las Vegas. “We just caught up again,” Okafor said. “When I first heard about it, I got excited. Just, the story of high school teammates and NBA teammates. That would be pretty cool.”
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