The Washington Wizards received their second dose of unfortunate injury news on Wednesday, announcing that starting center Emeka Okafor will be out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck. The news arrived on the same day that the team revealed that reserve forward Chris Singleton will miss six to eight weeks with a broken left foot.
Okafor’s loss is especially costly for the Wizards, who emerged as one of the league’s best defensive teams last season. Okafor averaged 9.7 points and a team-best 8.8 rebounds in 79 games last season and was hailed for bringing a professional, workmanlike attitude to the Wizards.
“I have worked hard over the summer and was looking forward to the start of training camp next week, so this is a disappointing and frustrating situation for me,” Okafor said in a statement released by the team. “But I have confidence that my teammates and coaches will be able to continue to take steps towards our goal of making the playoffs and that I will be able to do my part to help them once I return.”
Okafor had been experiencing discomfort in his neck from his offseason workouts before an MRI exam revealed the problem. After meeting with specialists and team doctors, Okafor will now begin rehabilitation to reduce inflammation and correct the injury.
The Wizards’ highest-paid player, Okafor is in the final year of a deal that will pay him $14.5 million next season. Okafor was acquired, along with Trevor Ariza, in June 2012 from New Orleans.
“Emeka’s professionalism and dedication to taking care of his body are among the best I have ever seen during my time in this league as a player, coach and executive and I know that he will be diligent in his efforts to return to the court as soon as possible,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “Until then, his absence will create opportunities for other players to step up and provide the rebounding and defense that Emeka normally contributes.”
The Wizards are relatively thin up front without Okafor. Nene could move over to center to make room for Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Al Harrington or Jan Vesely to start at power forward.
Training camp is set to begin on Sept. 28 at George Mason. Last season, the Wizards opened camp without both Nene and point guard John Wall.