When Nene found out that he was traded from Denver to Washington, he had to deal with the obvious shock of leaving the only organization he had played for in his first 9½ seasons – and also going from a playoff contender to one of the dregs of the NBA. But he also had concerns about where he was moving.
“I thought the city was going to be the same way like New York, like LA, crazy, fast tempo. I don’t like this kind of city,” Nene said. “But it’s different. It’s a small city. It’s a nice, international city. They have nice suburbs. I just need to learn the streets. Alphabet streets. Maybe I’ll be fine to drive.”
Nene didn’t have time to figure out how to get around his new town, but he had no trouble leading the way for his new team. The Nene Effect was dramatic, with one move changing both the locker room and the play on the court for the Wizards. His new teammates all commented on how players got more serious when he arrived. And, though he played just 11 of the 25 games, he was constantly passing along his knowledge and offering encouragement to a young team badly in need of guidance.
“Everybody knew they could trust Nene,” Trevor Booker said. “They knew what he was going to bring to the table. With us trusting him, it made our jobs easier.”
The numbers certainly supported that trust, as the Wizards went 7-4 and outscored opponents by 10.3 points in the games he played. The Wizards led by double-digits in the second half of three of those games before losing in the final minute. Had they been able to hold on to those leads, the Wizards very well could’ve gone 10-1.
“Nene is a big positive for us moving forward,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “There is no doubt about it. What he brings to this team, not only as a player in the locker room, as a leader that’s a big plus.”
The trade certainly threw off Nene, especially since it came three months after he had signed a five-year, $67-million contract to stay in Denver. He eventually learned to accept the move. “I don’t think it’s tough, because I know God prepares moments, the right moments for everything in my life,” Nene said.
Nene tried to downplay the influence he had on the Wizards’ strong finish, shutting down a question about being the key to the turnaround by asking, “Who’s the door?” But he was appreciative of the praise he received from his teammates and coaches in his six weeks with the Wizards.
“Who doesn’t like to receive a little tap on the shoulder when you do well?” said Nene, who averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 26 minutes with the Wizards. “The good thing is, I don’t need to change who I am. I just play, talking, giving advice and play my game. . . . How they play, how they talk, make me feel good. No spoiling. They don’t put me in the sky, but they make me feel good to keep working hard, to keep doing what I do.”
Nene arrived in Washington with a reputation for being a skilled big man with the ability to pass, defend and score in the low post. But Nene also showcase a mid-range shooting game that he claims he was unable to display in Denver, where the Nuggets had more offensive weapons.
“I just play free here. What they say, ‘I didn’t know you were so good.’ I been working the last four summers. I couldn’t shoot in Denver. Here, I have the green light to shoot it,” he said. “In Denver we had different players who shot a lot the ball. I don’t like to follow the example and shoot a lot. I never see a coach say to the players, ‘shoot the ball, please shoot the ball’. They do that here.”
Nene missed out on the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season, but only one of the 16 remaining teams has the potential to match the Wizards by winning the final six games. His former team is currently trailing 0-2 in its first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The plan was to finish strong and we did. It feel good. I feel good. I know we are not in the playoffs, but everybody can go home to their family happy. The mission was done,” Nene said. “I’m proud of all the players, because we had tough times here. Crazy thing happen like injuries, trades and new contract players, but we finish good. We finish like a team. We work hard. The atmosphere in the locker room so good. We’re going to have a full season next season. So everything’s good.”