After seeing the growth of Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker after Nene arrived, the Wizards added more veterans with playoff experience and reputations for professionalism to expedite the growth of a roster that continues to rely heavily on youth. Wittman supported the moves, believing that previous team lacked the character and strength to overcome tough challenges.
“We needed to have better mental toughness and not give into things when they go bad,” Wittman said. “Whether it’s injuries, going through a losing streak. . . . You’ve got to be able to withstand those things mentally to have any chance physically to go out and perform. That was needed and that’s what we tried to do with a lot of things we did in the offseason.”
Throughout the preseason and even in the Wizards’ season-opening 94-84 loss in Cleveland — when Barron, one of the last players to make the team, played the entire fourth quarter over Okafor, the highest-paid player on the roster — Wittman also has created a competitive environment in which playing time is based on merit and performance rather than reputation or salary.
“I think that’s the first big step, culturally, to the road to, first, respectability, then competitiveness, then competing for a playoff spot, then being in the playoffs, then going deep in the playoffs, and building a team that can be generationally a contender,” Leonsis said. “The team we had last year, at times, I felt bad.”
Before joining the team in June, Okafor had heard stories about some of the crazy antics in Washington — “Just whatever ones made the headlines,” he said — but he remains optimistic that the remade roster offers hope for a different course from the past four lottery seasons.
“The playoffs are not a far reach at all,” Okafor said. “If we play together and as we mature, get our full cast on board, we'll be just fine.”
Nene, who remains out indefinitely because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, said the Wizards need to focus only on what’s ahead of them. “The climate is very nice. What happened is in the past. The people that are here right now, they feel really happy with what’s going on.”