CHICAGO — This season has rarely, if ever, been about convenience for the Washington Wizards. But with a roster decimated by injuries, they found themselves in the unusual position of being able to call up a player from the NBA Development League and have him drive over to greet the team when it arrived for practice.
Down to just nine healthy players, the Wizards needed one more for a full scrimmage on Thursday and were fortunate that Othyus Jeffers, a two-time D-League all-star with past NBA experience, just happened to be back in his home town, visiting family and friends for a few days before returning to the Iowa Energy after just completing a 10-day stint with the San Antonio Spurs.
Jeffers had planned to return to Des Moines on Thursday morning, but his agent called the night before to tell him that he might have some good news for him by the time he woke up. Around 8 a.m., Jeffers got the call that the Wizards wanted to sign him to a 10-day contract. Since his family’s apartment on the west side of Chicago was only a two- minute drive from where the Wizards planned to practice at famed trainer Tim Grover’s Attack Athletics gym, Jeffers actually got there about two hours before the team did.
“Easy transition,” Jeffers said with a smile. “I packed my bag and came right over.”
Jeffers was handed a practice jersey with no name or number and quickly tried to learn new sets with players who were also relatively unfamiliar with one another. And, although Nick Young is hopeful that he can return from a sore left knee on Friday in Toronto after missing the Wizards’ 98-79 loss on Tuesday against the Bulls, the Wizards are obviously in need of more bodies, especially at small forward.
Rashard Lewis was away in New York on Thursday getting another opinion on the injured right knee that has sidelined him the past five games and limited him since joining the Wizards in a Dec. 18 trade with Orlando for Gilbert Arenas. Lewis will join the team in Toronto, but could be gone for the rest of the season if he decides to move forward with plans to have a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection to encourage more natural healing in the quad tendon above his right knee.
Andray Blatche also remains out with a sprained right shoulder, Josh Howard continues to struggle with a troublesome left knee and Cartier Martin is also unavailable with soreness in his right patella tendon.
The injury woes forced Coach Flip Saunders to start three rookies against the Bulls. Jordan Crawford and John Wall both played more than 40 minutes, with Crawford playing all 48, and Trevor Booker played despite a sore left hand that prohibited him from palming the basketball the way he would’ve liked.
As the Wizards (16-50) practiced on Thursday, the Georgetown Hoyas and later Purdue Boilermakers were preparing for the NCAA tournament on a practice court at the opposite end of the facility. The Wizards have experienced March Madness of a different kind the past three seasons, winning just five of their 35 games in the month, including a 1-6 mark so far this year.
Although the team has to win at least three of its final 16 games to avoid setting a new franchise record for futility in an 82-game season, Saunders said he doesn’t plan to wear down his remaining players simply to avoid making history.
“We’re trying to win games, yet, we can’t put ourselves in a situation where we start playing our guys a lot of minutes. If we do that, we’re going to get more guys hurt,” he said. “We want to evaluate guys and see where they are at. If we play the way we did last game [in Chicago], do some things, hold a team to 40 percent shooting, we’ll win some games.”
The Wizards hope that the 6-foot-5 Jeffers — whom players and coaches are already calling “O” — can help provide a much-needed jolt to a team that has lost five in a row and 12 of 13 overall. Though undersized, Jeffersis tied for 10th eighth in the D-League at 9.1 rebounds a game. He grabbed the first three rebounds of the scrimmage on Thursday.
“My brother always told me, people will pay more attention to you if you fill a stat sheet. I was always on teams where they had scorers. So the ball isn’t always swung around, so it was always missed shots. I’d just go get the rebounds, dunk it, or put it back in,” said Jeffers, who also averaged 21.1 points and 1.9 steals. If it’s in the air, I can jump, I can pretty much beat everybody to it. It ain’t nothing I studied. I got a knack for it.”
The 2009 D-League rookie of the year, Jeffers ended last season in Utah, where he averaged 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 14 regular season games and appeared in six playoff games. He was called up by the Spurs earlier this month and said he shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting, especially since he was already familiar with Martin, having been his teammate last season in Iowa.
“I’m kind of used to situations like this now,” Jeffers said. “I always have to prove myself. It’s nothing to me. It’s a great opportunity to showcase my talents.”