During a bizarre six-game stretch with the Washington Wizards in which he has been benched two games, played a combined 82 seconds in two others and scored a combined 34 points in two others, Kevin Seraphin has been the embodiment of the unpredictable existence of an NBA reserve.
Seraphin never knows how much or if he’ll play and doesn’t bother to ask anymore, because the answer from Coach Randy Wittman is always the same: Stay ready, your time will come. That message is hard to accept after a game in which he spent the whole night as a spectator, or when his shooting shirt and warmups are taken off for an appearance that doesn’t result in breaking a sweat. Seraphin could gripe about his situation but refuses to complain.
“If I play one, two, three, four, five or 20 minutes, I’m going to be ready,” Seraphin said. “To be honest with you, it’s really tough if you don’t know you’re about to go into the game, or if you’re not. But that’s how it is right now. That’s how the NBA is; it’s not about the opportunity, it’s about being ready, that’s all I have to do. That’s the only thing I have to do.”
Seraphin’s plight is shared by Wizards reserves who haven’t made their way inside Wittman’s reliable eight-man rotation through the first 40 games. With the Wizards (20-20) set to reach the official halfway mark of the season on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, Wittman said he has a better sense of what to expect when he calls on backups to spell his starting five. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat account for more than three-fourths (76.1 points) of an offense that averages 98.5 points per game.
Wittman revealed the rotation that he trusts most after Nene made his return to the starting lineup in Chicago on Jan. 13 and he decided that he would add others to the mix based on “feel.” That meant other players who may have been relied upon earlier in the season were suddenly turned into spectators without explanation.
“You have 15 players and only five are allowed out on the court at one time. I know you guys think I should play 15, but you can't,” Wittman said recently. “We’ve solidified that bench a little bit, even going with Nene back in the starting lineup, we’ve got some good production.”
For three games, Martell Webster, Garrett Temple and Trevor Booker received most of the playing time and the Wizards claimed two wins against the Bulls and another against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. That trio accounted for 87 points in the three wins, but Wittman was forced to call on Jan Vesely when Booker went down with a sprained ankle in the first half against Detroit.
With Booker sidelined on Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Vesely and Seraphin combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shotsin the Wizards’ 107-99 win. Booker will be a game-time decision against the Celtics, putting Vesely and Seraphin on the brink of big minutes or a night off.
“That’s a situation those guys are in, you’re one step away from playing 30 minutes a night,” Wittman said. “You never know what’s going to happen, foul trouble, injury, sickness. I think those two have really taken that to heed and been ready, when they’ve been called up.”
Seraphin has certainly made the most of his limited opportunities of late. With Gortat in foul trouble and the Wizards desperate to find an answer for Dwight Howard, Wittman threw Seraphin into action and the 6-foot-9 forward from French Guiana scored a season-high 18 points on Jan. 11 and helped Washington rally. He didn’t appear in the next game in Chicago.
Seraphin got to run up and down the floor for the final 54 seconds of the Wizards’ blowout win against Miami. The next game against the Bulls, Seraphin received 28 seconds of action and had a critical blocked shot near the end of the first half. He didn’t appear in the next game against Detroit.
On Monday, Seraphin scored 16 points and was instrumental in helping the team build a 21-point lead against Philadelphia.
“I know it’s tough sometimes with guys not getting a lot of minutes, worrying about playing time, when you’re used to playing a lot,” Wall said. “You have to take full advantage of your opportunity and show coach and those guys that you’re going out, competing, and playing the right way.”
In his fourth season in Washington, Seraphin has been around long enough to understand the cycle and what has to be done to endear more trust from Wittman. “I’m going to make sure I’m ready for every game, every minute I have. I really feel great on the court,” Seraphin said. “Nothing has to be explained to me. I don’t really ask why. . . . I’m just waiting, that’s all.”