Nene may have been better served to just step into a freezer after each game this season.
Over the course of another grueling campaign, the Washington Wizards veteran’s nightly recovery routine gradually increased from resting one foot in a bucket of ice to soaking both feet, to covering both knees with ice packs and adding a wrap to cover his sore right shoulder.
Tired of maintaining a mummified look as plantar fasciitis in his left foot never fully healed and as soreness in his right knee worsened, Nene has decided to sit out the Wizards’ final two games, Monday in Brooklyn and Wednesday in Chicago. For Nene, making it through 61 games was no small feat after being tested physically and mentally in his 11th season.
“How tough? Tough enough to think about the end of my career? Yeah, that’s how tough it was,” he said. “It was so hard to play the way I did it. I thought to end my career because it’s so painful, my body can’t support. I’m glad I finished the season, but the way I suffer, I hope, never again.”
Nene, who is owed $39 million for the next three seasons, said conversations with his wife, Lauren, and business manager, Alex Santos, persuaded him to keep going. The 6-foot-11 Brazilian said he remains motivated to play because of faith in God and his young son, Mateos, but that he needs to rest and focus on being healthy for next season.
“To play through pain, that’s not necessary,” said Nene, 30, who will have an injection in his right knee to relieve some of his agony. “For what? I’m going to sit down. Let the young guys play. They need the work.”
Forwards Martell Webster (abdominal strain) and Trevor Ariza (left knee) will also be shut down for the remainder of the season, hindering the Wizards’ efforts to finish with 30 wins. Coach Randy Wittman was surprised to hear that Nene didn’t plan on participating in the final two games – “News to me,” he said – but agreed that Nene needed to get healthy.
“It’s a big summer for him to work on his body and then when the season rolls around here, we’re hitting the floor running right from the start and we didn’t have that luxury with John [Wall] or him this year,” Wittman said. “We have to have our main guys healthy and playing as many games as you can to get to that level of playoffs.”
The start of Nene’s first full season with the Wizards was delayed as he rested for three months after representing Brazil in the Olympics. After missing training camp because of plantar fasciitis, he practiced twice before making his season debut in late November, came off the bench his first 12 games and had his playing time restricted until the start of the calendar year.
Nene shot just 48 percent from the field for the season, his lowest for any season in which he played at least 35 games, and was less effective outside the restricted area. He averaged 12.6 points per game, his fewest since the 2006-07 campaign, and committed more than two turnovers per game for the second season in a row.
Since being acquired from Denver in a three-team deal in March 2012, Nene has missed 44 of a possible 117 games. He attributes that largely to not taking the time necessary to let his left foot heal.
“Get healthy. That’s my priority right now. It’s been affected since I got traded. That thing got started when I was with the Nuggets,” said Nene, who averaged 14.2 points on 59.1 percent shooting over his previous four seasons in Denver. “It was an honor to represent my country and play for my country in the Olympics. I made sacrifice, you know. It was my decision on that one, but now I’m going to have a summer to recover to have my body straight, my strength straight.”
The Wizards (29-51) are decidedly better with him on the floor. Among Wizards players to appear in at least 35 games this season, only Nene and Wall have positive plus-minus numbers for the season. Washington was 15-7 this season with Wall, Nene and rookie Bradley Beal in the lineup.
“The way we start and the way we finished, we did an amazing job, because if you ask for opinion, they never going to say, ‘The Wizards are going to get more than 20 wins.’ We did really well. So for next season, for sure, we’re going to be better,” Nene said, adding that he wants the team to aim higher than a low seed in the Eastern Conference players. “If we want to be in a good position, just to be in the playoffs is not my goal. For me, that is no goal.”
Nene said he hopes the Wizards’ young big men — Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton — will take advantage of the opportunity to play in the final two games. “It’s a hard job. I still here 11 years, being able to play because I work hard. I want to kill — in a nice way — take a player in my position down. That’s how this league is, to have that kind of pride. Because when someone try to take something from you, you need to fight. That’s what they need to do.”
As for concerns about being considered a malingerer for shutting himself down early, Nene countered: “I don’t care what people think, because they are not here with me every day. They don’t know how much I suffer, how much I cry, how much physical therapy I did to be able to play. I don’t care. I know what I been through. I will come back strong. They will see.”