The Washington Post

Wizards’ Nene likely to come off the bench when he returns

Trevor Booker has made the most of his starting opportunity. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

NEW YORK – Nene participated in pregame warmups with his teammates, running through shooting drills and layup lines, as he prepares to return from a sprained left knee ligament that has kept him out of the lineup since Feb. 23. The Wizards are still unable to offer a timetable for when the Brazilian big man will return, but he is getting closer.

Before the Wizards took on the New York Knicks in an important game for both teams, Coach Randy Wittman said he is already starting to come up with a plan for his rotation to accommodate Nene when he is back.

“I ain’t sharing it with you, but I’ve thought about it,” Wittman said with a laugh.

But the most likely scenario involves Nene possibly being eased back in and utilized in a reserve role until he regains his footing and rhythm after sitting out for six weeks. “When he comes back, we’re going to have to look at a lot of different things like we probably did here when he came back from injury the first time, bringing him off the bench, maybe. But we’ll have to look at it, see where he’s at, what he’s thinking and how he would like to have that transpire, too.”

The Wizards have gone 11-8 since Nene went down and Wittman has found his most reliable rotation of the season, especially after the addition of Drew Gooden. Wittman, however, doesn’t expect to have any problems working Nene back into the fold after a long layoff. “Oh no,” Wittman said. “Anytime you get one of your best players back, you’re excited. So, he means a lot to us. Having his presence back, both on the floor and in the locker room with these guys his big.”

Nene’s absence has opened an opportunity for Trevor Booker to start at power forward, allowing one of the longest tenured Wizards to play a huge role in helping the team return the playoffs. Booker, Seraphin and John Wall were all drafted in 2010.

“I knew one day it would come,” Booker said. ”I wasn’t sure when. We were hoping it would come last year, but it didn’t. But we worked our butts off over the summer and we got it done this season. Everybody stuck together. We have a great chemistry. Brought some veteran guys in here and all of that collaborated and helped us.

“It feels good to be successful,” he continued. “It feels even better to be in the starting lineup and be successful. We’ve had some unfortunate injuries. Hopefully, we’ll get everybody back for the playoffs.”

Entering Friday’s game against the Knicks, the Wizards were 19-19 with Booker in the starting lineup. Booker will be a free agent this summer, which makes his current opportunity especially timely.

And, after watching the Wizards rise from being one of the league’s dregs to being a playoff team again, he would like to stick around and be a part of the continued climb. “I mean, I seen this team grow from terrible, to what we are now. So, this team is my heart. I’m not sure where this offseason will take me, but I know Washington is my heart, so we’ll see.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · April 4, 2014