For a while, the Wizards tried to promote the idea that the future was set at point guard and center – the two toughest positions to secure – with John Wall and JaVale McGee set to run and connect on alley-oops for years to come. Turns out, McGee was merely developing into a player who would become good enough to get the big man they truly needed. Or at least that’s what they hope.
In Nene, the Wizards have a player who was coveted as the biggest catch in free agency once the lockout ended. He won’t jump over anyone, but rather through them. He might not rack up a bunch of blocked shots, but he can defend his position and understands team concepts with containing the pick-and-roll.
And he isn’t trying to figure out what he is, because the 10-year veteran has consistently provided a presence on both ends for the Denver Nuggets.
“Nene brings us something we really haven’t had a consistency of, in terms of a big that can demand the ball inside, that can score on the inside,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards defeated New Orleans, 99-89, on Thursday. “He can play multiple positions, the 4 and 5 – and he’s a tough guy. He gives us some grit inside that I think is needed for us.
“He’s an established player who has been through the rigors of playoff series and knows what that’s all about and now can be kind of a centerpiece of guidance for some of these guys, because of what he’s been through,” Wittman said. “An established guy that these guys are going to enjoy playing with. Attitude, work ethic and what he can deliver on the floor. To have the piece that we can build now, continue to build around was important.”
The centerpiece for the Wizards in a three-team deal that shipped McGee and Nick Young to playoff teams, Nene wasn’t having his best season in Denver. He was averaging just 13.4 points on 50.9 percent shooting and giving the Nuggets second thoughts on signing him to a five-year, $65-million extension just three months ago. But he was somebody whom the Wizards desperately needed – a legitimate starter who can help expedite the development of a roster that features seven players in their first or second seasons.
“We got a solid veteran big guy that comes from a winning situation,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “He’s a very versatile frontcourt player and very competitive person, good passer. And he’s a very good defender.”
Trevor Booker was disappointed to see McGee and Young go, but couldn’t wait to get on the floor with Nene. “Well, they were close to me. I’m definitely going to miss them,” Booker said of McGee and Young. “But at the same time, you got to welcome the new players and we’ll go from there. Just watching Nene play, he’s a hardnosed guy. He’s very tough. With me and him down there, it’s going to be tough to score down there and it’s going to be tough to get rebounds. I’m looking forward to it.”
Young and McGee certainly had their moments with the Wizards. But while they were in Washington, too many bad habits hadn’t been broken and too many losses continued to pile up, leading Grunfeld to seek out a more established big man in Nene, who has been on playoff teams in each of his past eight seasons and advanced to the Western Conference finals in 2009.
“He brings credibility to the locker room. He’s a guy, a veteran and a load in the low post,” Roger Mason Jr. said of Nene. “It’s tough to see teammates go, but you realize it’s a part of the business. For Nick, it’s a great opportunity for him, to go back home and be on a playoff team and get a chance to flourish on that team. And for us, I think it’s a good move, to bring in a veteran guy that can score in the post. We’ll obviously miss JaVale and Ronny down low, but I feel Nene gives this team another dimension.”
When Kevin Seraphin was drafted 17th overall in 2010, he said his game and frame most resembled the rugged Brazilian big man Nene. After scoring 12 points, grabbing nine rebounds and collecting five personal fouls in his second start of the season in New Orleans, Seraphin was excited to battle Nene in practice.
“That’s going to be a good thing for me,” Seraphin said. “Because in my life, everywhere I play, I always had a center to help me and show me the way. He can come here and help me, because he knows the game. It’s Nene, so I just will try to learn from him.”