When the news broke during the preseason that Emeka Okafor would be out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck, perhaps no Washington Wizards player was impacted more than Kevin Seraphin.
During the three previous seasons, Seraphin had established himself as a capable scorer in the post. No one expected him to be the defensive difference-maker that the shotblocking Okafor was, but for a Wizards team evolving into an underrated yet undersized defensive stalwart, Seraphin was still working to show that he too could thwart opposing players with his 6-foot-10, 278-pound frame.
Now was his chance.
In six preseason games, the numbers were solid, as Seraphin averaged 7.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. And while it was just the preseason, the Wizards’ 2-4 mark in those contests didn’t exactly inspire confidence. With both Coach Randy Wittman and General Manager Ernie Gunfeld sweating under the demands of owner Ted Leonsis to make the playoffs, rather than patiently bring Seraphin or Jan Vesely along as the starting forward alongside Nene, the Wizards traded for Okafor to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat just days before the season began.
The move served to again delay Seraphin’s presumed evolution into the player that made him a first-round draft pick in 2010 and resulted in an up-and-down fourth season that left his future with the Wizards uncertain entering his summer as a restricted free agent.
“I love this game so if I don’t play I’m frustrated,” Seraphin said. “It’s just something you have to deal with it. You just have to stay positive and bring good energy and good vibes all the time, so that’s what I tried.”
When asked if he hopes to return to the Wizards following this past season’s playoff run, Seraphin said, “For sure. But I want to play, too, so we’ll see.”
Seraphin stands to strengthen his case with the Wizards or any of the other 29 NBA teams when he plays with the French national team during this summer’s FIBA World Cup in July. The squad could potentially feature San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, Chicago’s Joakim Noah and Portland’s Nicolas Batum, affording Seraphin the opportunity to shine alongside this strong batch of talent and glean from their wisdom.
“You can’t go wrong, especially a guy like Kevin,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “The more he can play, whether the national team or here at home, I think young guys playing in the offseason, that’s how you continue to get better.”
After his preseason audition, Seraphin had a chance to again prove his mettle when Nene was sidelined for six weeks with a knee injury sustained in February. But after showing signs in 25 minutes of action in a Feb. 23 win at Cleveland, the night that Nene went down, Seraphin showed up to shootaround two days later in street clothes, hampered by a knee injury of his own that would sideline him for the next seven games.
In that time, the Wizards brought in Drew Gooden on a 10-day contract and saw Trevor Booker emerge as a capable starter, stuffing Seraphin further down the bench and ultimately, out of the rotation.
“The coach not really [tell] me,” Seraphin said when asked why he only played 54 total minutes across the final 30 games of the season. “You just understand, Nene goes out, so after that, Drew had to play while I was injured so I figured, it’s difficult to play six big man. Can’t really do that. Drew take his opportunity so he keep playing and we were winning, so I guess that’s how it goes.”
When it comes to post moves and scoring in the paint, Seraphin is superior to both Gooden and Booker, which makes for his upside as a 24-year-old. But Seraphin’s youth surfaced in lapses defending pick-and-roll situations, his stiffness as a shot blocker and trouble passing out of double teams in the post.
Seraphin plans to spend plenty of time developing these skills both locally and in France before competing in the FIBA World Cup. In that time, the Wizards roster situation is likely to become much clearer, with Gortat, Booker, Gooden, Al Harrington all joining Seraphin on the free-agent market. Frankly, Seraphin isn’t likely to be a high priority for the Wizards, who may wait and see how their other free-agent negotations go first. But even after his mercurial fourth year, the budding forward has earned a few supporters in the Wizards organization who may vouch for his return.
“Kevin knows I have nothing but the absolute respect for him,” Martell Webster said. “I know he can be a monster in this league if he stays patients and gets better.”