Neither Wall nor Nene will be available when the new-look Wizards are unveiled for Saturday’s home opener against Boston at Verizon Center, as both players are dealing with injuries. But the remaining 13 players are eager to make an impression and put the dysfunctional days of being a bottom-feeder behind the franchise.
“Every time you’d see ESPN, we were on the ‘Not Top 10’ or something bad’s happening. So it’s always negative things coming toward this team,” said rookie Bradley Beal, the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA draft last June. “But I think this year we have a totally different team — a lot of new assets and guys who have great character on top of that. So I think this program is really on the uprise and it’s turning around. We have to prove that and show that out there.”
Beal will be one of four starters who weren’t on the Wizards’ roster last season, joining veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, acquired in a pre-draft trade with New Orleans, and A.J. Price, who was signed as Wall’s primary backup in August.
IncludingMartell Webster, Jannero Pargo and Earl Barron, the Wizards (0-1) have seven new players from the end of last season. Just six players — all first-round draft picks from 2010 and 2011 — remain from last season’s opening day roster.
“It’s very sobering to have to enter a new season basically where John Wall is your most-tenured player. That was by design, and we knew we’d have to rebuild the team and we did it fast,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who took over the franchise a few weeks before the team drafted Wall No. 1 overall in 2010, said last month. “To start the season with basically not a single player on the roster from when I bought the team . . . has anybody else ever tried that?”
While discussing the trade for Nene late last season, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers explained how the skilled big man from Brazil would help the Wizards on the floor. He then paused and said: “Forget all the other stuff. They needed a veteran on that team.”
The Wizards went with youth and inexperience during the initial stages of Wall’s career, relying on a talented but undisciplined trio of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young to play prominent roles on a team that collected piles of losses and laughter.
Wall won’t return from a stress injury in his left knee for another month, but he has managed to remain mostly upbeat despite the frustration of having to sit out since late September. He struggled to hide his displeasure through his first two seasons — a classic example being a loss to Toronto when he angrily motioned for McGee to get back on offense after McGee had sprinted downcourt to play defense without realizing his team had the ball.
“The group of guys we had was great guys and great players, they was just not used to winning when they played and kind of took into losing,” Wall said. “I don’t necessarily think the environment had to change. I don’t think we took the time to trust each other while we was with each other, so they made the changes. Something you have to deal with, the business part of the NBA.”