While the Wizards continue to figure out how to carry on without him, Emeka Okafor is rehabilitating and recovering under the supervision of a cervical spine specialist in New York.
Out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck, Okafor participated in Wizards media day festivities and the team dinner in Virginia later that evening. But the veteran big man returned to New York – where he also maintains his offseason home with his wife and newborn daughter – before the team started practicing at George Mason.
“It’s just one of the consequences of being injured. You just kind of in the back burner, just chilling,” Okafor said during media day. “As a competitor, you want to be out there with your teammates, just going through it. When you can’t, it’s not fun. But, I’m going to be working to get back ASAP.”
Jan Vesely appears set to be the first player to replace Okafor in the starting lineup alongside Nene, but Kevin Seraphin will also get ample opportunities. Trevor Booker has gradually increased his workload but remains doubtful for Tuesday’s preseason opener against Brooklyn.
The 6-foot-10 Okafor was one of the main reasons that the Wizards were one of the league’s best defensive teams and ranked tied for fifth in defensive rebounding percentage with Indiana, Chicago and Orlando. He led the team in starts (77), rebounds (8.8) and double doubles (20).
“Okafor was pretty steady with his numbers, in rebounding the ball,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “It might not be one person that’s going to grab all those rebounds that he got, but defensive rebounding, we were in the top five. Even though Emeka was a very good defensive rebounder for us, we can’t let that slip.”
Chris Singleton is out for at least another month with a broken left foot but he is staying in Washington while he recovers. Knowing Okafor’s work ethic and commitment to taking care of his body, the Wizards had no problem letting the 31-year-old center heal away from the team.
Okafor said on media day that his neck is improving but gets stiff if he sits still for long. He won’t be with the team when it travels to Brazil to take on the Chicago Bulls in Rio de Janeiro.
“If you didn’t know anything was wrong, which makes it a bit of a tricky case, but as far as the worst, the acute phase is over,” Okafor said. “Right now, it’s just a progression of how I feel. It’s coming along, getting better day by day. No definite time frame.”
Despite his absence, Okafor is confident that the Wizards will remain competitive and in the playoff hunt until he returns.
“This is one of the closer groups that I’ve played with. We were constantly joking around and chatting and enjoying each other’s company,” he said. “That’s how you know the character of the team, when things get tough, the guys stick together and we didn’t have bickering and nitpicking. We had none of that. Everybody came in with a professional attitude about working hard and everybody wanted to be around each other. That’s why my optimism for this team is so high.”