Nene tries to mentor Wizards teammates while nursing nagging injury
By Michael Lee,
Nene assumed his normal position Thursday after the Washington Wizards ended practice: He grabbed a seat along the baseline of the court, pulled off his left shoe, pulled his sock halfway off until it hung off his toes, then placed his heel on a bag of ice.
Still dealing with a nagging case of plantar fasciitis that has kept him sidelined since the conclusion of the London Olympics in August and cost him 10 games near the end of last season, Nene isn’t where he nor the Wizards would like with the season already underway.
The Wizards had hoped Nene would be healthy by the end of training camp, but he never felt comfortable offering a timetable. He has increased his workload after receiving electronic stimulation treatment two weeks ago in Baltimore but remains out indefinitely.
“It’s a little hard but I’m on the right direction, and when I get back, for sure, I will be back 100 [percent] ready to help my team,” he said. “That’s what I can say.”
Though he hasn’t been able to assist his teammates by playing, Nene remains actively involved, providing advice and encouragement from the sideline.
Kevin Seraphin completed his first full practice Thursday after sustaining a strained right calf in Cleveland on Oct. 13, then received his regular dose of wisdom from Nene, who pulled aside the 6-foot-10, third-year forward to suggest players to study to become a better defender.
Since the Wizards acquired him from the Denver Nuggets in a three-team trade last March, Nene, 30, has served as a mentor to Seraphin, whose performance dramatically improved immediately after Nene arrived.
At the urging of Nene, Seraphin wore a pair of high-top sneakers instead of the more fashionable three-quarter models that the veteran felt made Seraphin more susceptible to ankle sprains or other injuries.
“So I just change shoes,” said Seraphin, who hopes to return to the Wizards lineup on Saturday in the home opener against the Boston Celtics, as he pointed at his feet. “He talk to me everyday on everything. I just try to listen.”
Coach Randy Wittman made certain that Nene traveled with the team throughout the preseason, sitting on the bench during games, learning the system, offering pointers to players on the floor and in the locker room. In some ways, Nene has been similar to having another assistant on the bench.
“Another voice,” Wittman said. “He’s done a lot of that. That’s important for those guys. Because you see it differently when you’re hurt and on the bench than when you are running up and down the floor, and I think it’s been a big help for some of our guys to hear that.”
Trevor Booker had a forgettable performance in the Wizards’ 94-84 season-opening loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he shot just 2 of 9 and finished with as many points as turnovers (four). Nene gave Booker tips throughout the game, and helped lift his spirits in the locker room afterward.
“He told me, ‘You got 81 more games left. Hold your head high,’ ” Booker said. “I look at him as my big brother. He definitely offers a lot of advice.”
Nene said he was “a little sad, to not be over there, performing,” but that he is enjoying observing and interacting with his new teammates. “Right now, I’m not going to be on the court, but I need to be around them. I know I can help just being close to them for certain moments. I’m blessed to be here.”
Nene had played in at least 75 games the three previous seasons before appearing in just 39 last season with the Nuggets and Wizards. He played in 11 of 25 games after the trade and the Wizards went 7-4 with him in the lineup.
After watching his team get destroyed on the glass and lacking an interior scoring presence in Cleveland, Wittman would love to have Nene back sooner than later — especially with John Wall also sidelined with a stress injury in his left knee — but he is willing to be patient. And the Wizards want to be cautious with Nene owed $52 million over the next four seasons.
“How long? I have no idea. I’ve stopped asking. When they tap me on the shoulder and say that he can play, I’ll let you guys know,” Wittman said. “There have been no setbacks. Everything is going positive. He’s doing more and more with his rehab.”
Nene has been impressed by the competitive spirit of his teammates throughout training camp and the preseason, but he still isn’t sure how he will fit in whenever he returns to the court.
“I can say nothing right now about how it’s going to be. . . . I believe we are going to do the right job for the team to be in good position,” Nene said. “The hard work, the competition between each other, is very healthy. Each one try to make the next one better in practice. That’s a good thing. The chemistry is coming and we start to build up the bond and that’s exciting. New teammates, a lot of talent. I have a lot of confidence my team is going to do well. That makes me excited.”
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