Trevor Booker was covered in a lather of sweat, moving through an otherwise jovial locker room with a furrowed brow after the Wizards defeated the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night. Booker had received his eighth DNP-Coach’s Decision of the season and took out his frustrations on the practice court by shooting jumpers and running sprints on his own.
“Just by myself to get my mind off of things. I was a little stressed out, but it comes with the territory,” Booker said.
This season has been stressful for Booker for a different reason than others in Washington. In his first three seasons, Booker had to deal with injuries limiting his ability to get on the floor. But now in his fourth season, Booker is healthy — with the exception of a sore index finger that isn’t serious — and finds himself out of Coach Randy Wittman’s rotation.
“It’s definitely frustrating that I’m not out there,” Booker said. “When I’m healthy, I feel like nobody can hold me back. When I’m on the court, I feel like it’s no stopping my energy and the things I do on the court.”
With the pressure to win after owner Ted Leonsis’s playoff demand, Wittman has relied heavily on his starters and has yet to find a consistent rotation from a second unit that has provided little help. The Wizards are 6-2 in games that Booker hasn’t played, and after the win over Atlanta, Wittman said that he wasn’t willing to sacrifice victories while waiting for the bench to provide some consistency.
Booker is averaging career lows of 3.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 14 minutes. He is eager to get on the floor, especially as he enters free agency next summer. “It’s definitely something I’m worried about,” Booker said, when asked about his contract situation. “I can’t control if I get on the court or not.”
When asked what he could do to earn more minutes, Booker shrugged and said, “We don’t practice, so I can’t prove it that way. I feel that I’ve proven it, in the games. The three games I started, I’ve done a pretty good job. I felt good out there and my minutes went down. So it’s nothing I can do to prove more.”
The Wizards could have nearly $16 million in salary cap space next summer if they decline to make the qualifying offers required to make Booker ($3.4 million) and Kevin Seraphin ($3.8 million) restricted free agents. A source close to Booker said recently that if the Wizards let him become an unrestricted free agent, he would look elsewhere for employment based on how the season has gone.
“I’m going to stay positive and keep working hard, keep doing my maintenance work. Try to stay healthy. I’ve been healthy the whole season, so I’m just going to continue to try to stay healthy and stay ready because my opportunity is going to come – whether it’s here or with another team,” Booker said. “My friends and family are telling me to stay focused, telling me to stay into it. That’s all you can do.”
If Booker had never been given a chance, he might have a better understanding. But he started the first three games of the season and didn’t play in the next three games. Then, after having to settle for spot minutes in five of the next six games, Booker sat another three games before he was given 25 minutes in the Wizards’ 93-73 loss to Indiana. The next night, he never took off his warmups.
“It’s definitely kind of strange. Starting the first three games, then going from 25 minutes straight to zero,” Booker said. “I thought I did a pretty good job that game, but my number wasn’t called that night. All I can do is just keep working.”
Booker added that the left index finger that he dislocated on Nov. 3 in Miami has not hindered him at all. “It’s probably going to be sore most of the season, but it’s definitely not holding me back. The game that it happened, it was sore that game, but I was ready the next game.”
Booker had four points and eight rebounds against the Pacers but was stunned to get benched against the Hawks.
“I had no clue,” Booker said, when asked if Wittman had told him that he wouldn’t play. “When it first happened, he told me that it wasn’t me. He said it was Nene came back. He told me to keep working and stay ready. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s the only thing I can do now. It’s up to him.”
After the Pacers’ game, Booker admitted that he needed to get his wind back after not playing more than 11 minutes in the previous 14 games. “It’s really nothing I can do to make sure I’m in game shape,” Booker said. “Game shape is way different from running sprints on a practice court. But I’m going to continue to run sprints, when we play three-on-three pickup, full court. So I’m going to continue working on my conditioning so that I’m when ready when my number is called. Just stay ready, keep preparing each game, the same way I would if I knew I was going to play.”