Add the resident owner of enormous and exotic snakes to the Washington Wizards’ list of big men seemingly snakebitten by injuries and illness this preseason.
Kevin Seraphin, a collector of the slithery reptiles — including one creatively named, “Snakey” — will miss the Wizards’ next game on Monday against the Brooklyn Nets, and possibly more, after straining his right calf in the first quarter of the team’s 99-95 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Wizards do not have a timetable for his return and plan to monitor the injury. Seraphin grabbed a rebound and attempted to cut left, but immediately felt a sharp pain in his right calf, which he explained, “was just like, plack!” And as the 6-foot-9 center hobbled off the court, Coach Randy Wittman said he thought to himself, “Not another one.”
This has been an unforgiving preseason for Wizards centers and power forwards, a position that was considered a strength for the team. Nene arrived at training camp with plantar fasciitis, then Trevor Booker injured his left hamstring during two-a-day practices; Emeka Okafor endured food poisoning from a bad burger that caused him to lose 12 pounds and wiped him out of two games; and Chris Singleton, who moved over from small forward to power forward because of the lack of depth, banged up his left shoulder in a loss against the New York Knicks.
“Just seems to be, for some reason, we can’t keep a big healthy,” Wittman lamented after the win. “We had so many. I was worried, leading into the preseason, how I was going to get everybody minutes at the bigs. Now, I can’t find a big to get minutes.”
Okafor is expected to finally make his Wizards debut on Monday in the first game played at the new Barclays Center, where the Wizards will also have a reunion with Andray Blatche, who was waived in July after a seven-year stint in Washington. Booker and Singleton both returned to practice on Sunday and are getting closer to returning, but Wittman will be forced to lean upon training camp invitees Shavlik Randolph, Brian Cook and Earl Barron in the interim.
Randolph and Cook filled in admirably for Seraphin in Cleveland as they combined for 19 points and 12 rebounds. But Seraphin, a third-year forward, is the Wizards’ best low-post scorer not named Nene; adept at making hooks with either hand and hitting spot-up jumpers. He averaged 10.5 points starting at center in the first two games of the preseason.
Walking out of the visitor’s locker room in a walking boot, Seraphin refused to accept that the injury would keep him out for a prolonged period of time.
“I can put my feet on the floor and that doesn’t feel very bad. I’m going to be all right,” Seraphin said, before placing his index finger to the side of his temple. “Everything is in the mind.”
Wittman wasn’t nearly as optimistic after watching Seraphin move around. He had hoped to use the preseason as a time to see which combinations worked best with his intriguing collection of size, athleticism and beef. But now, the exhibition games will provide Randolph, Cook and Barron the opportunity to possibly compete for the final roster spot.
“Through unfortunate situations come great opportunities,” veteran swingman Martell Webster said, using what could be the Wizards’ unofficial motto so far, with the team also without electrifying point guard John Wall.
The 6-9 Cook, a nine-year veteran, finished last season in Washington after arriving from the Los Angeles Clippers in the three-team trade involving Nick Young. He returned wanting to see some carryover from the end of last season, when the Wizards won eight of their final 10 games.
On Saturday, Cook, who Wittman calls, “Cookie,” played an instrumental role in the Wizards winning their first game of the preseason. He scored a team-high 14 points, made three three-pointers — including a shot from long distance with 51.1 seconds left that gave the Wizards the lead for good — and had an alley-oop layup off a pass from Jordan Crawford.
“My mentality over this last 10 years has been to stay ready. You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” said Cook, recalling the time he became Big 10 freshman of the year at Illinois after filling in for an injured upperclassman. “You don’t want that to happen, but that’s what this league is about. People stepping up when they are given their opportunity.”
The 6-10 Randolph is seeking a return to the NBA after playing last season in China. He had a team-high nine rebounds in 17 minutes, helping the Wizards battle back on the boards after Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao dominated in the first half.
“Since I kind of came into the NBA right out of Duke that has kind of been my role, to be a guy that has to stay ready and provide energy and rebounding, and hustling when I come in,” said Randolph, who led the Wizards in rebounding during summer league in Las Vegas. “Coming into training camp sometimes, not being a guy on a contract, your role is a little undefined. But for me, it’s pretty simple. It was the same.”
Wittman would rather get to see how his team will look when all of the pieces come together, but for now, he’ll settle for seeing what the rest of his team is made of.
“It’s not the best-case scenario, but at some point during the year, you always run through periods of time like this,” Wittman said. “It also gives me an idea of a guy that maybe sits for seven to 10 days and I’ll have confidence that he can do it the right way.”