Emeka Okafor had just finished practice on Monday afternoon when he approached reporters waiting outside the auxiliary court at Verizon Center. Without missing a beat, the Washington Wizards‘ starting center smiled and said, “Back to New Orleans.”
Okafor was referring to the Wizards’ game on Tuesday night in the Crescent City, where the nine-year veteran spent parts of three seasons and participated in six playoff games during 2010-11. That season, Okafor averaged nearly 32 minutes per game along with 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds as the Hornets went 46-36 to grab third place in the Southwest Division.
These days the circumstances have changed dramatically for Okafor, who’s part of a team with a league-worst 2-15 record. The Wizards remain the only franchise without a road win this season, and following an improbable 105-101 triumph against the NBA champion Miami Heat on Tuesday, Washington has lost two in a row.
“The only weird part is going into the opposite locker room for the first time,” Okafor said about his return to New Orleans. “Actually it’s still weird when I go to Charlotte and go to the opposite locker room. It feels a little different because it’s just a routine you used to have.”
The Bobcats made Okafor the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, and he played there for five seasons before the club shipped him to New Orleans in exchange for Tyson Chandler.
While with Charlotte, Okafor produced personal single-season highs for points and rebounds per game. He averaged a double-double over his entire career with the Bobcats and fell just short of that during his first two seasons in New Orleans.
This season Oakfor, who arrived in the District along with Trevor Ariza in a deal that sent Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to the Hornets, is averaging 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, well below his career marks of 12.5 and 9.9 respectively. In his most recent game against Golden State on Saturday, Okafor had two points and no rebounds in 11 minutes 34 seconds in a 101-97 loss.
“I haven’t lost any confidence or faith in Emeka,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “He’s got to continue to rebound. He didn’t have rebound in 12 minutes [against the Warriors]. That scenario the last two games, we got beat up on, so we’ve got to put guys in there who are rebounding that particular game.”