Before the Washington Wizards began a journey they hope will end with their first playoff appearance in six years, Coach Randy Wittman wanted his players to take a brief look at where they’ve been.
Last season certainly wasn’t the most successful campaign for the Wizards, who won just 29 games amid plenty of adversity, established an identity as one of the NBA’s best defensive teams and collected several wins over the league’s elite. As the players gathered at the George Mason Inn on Friday night for the first team meeting, Wittman reminded them of those achievements with a highlight video that left his crew encouraged.
“You could just see the excitement of the team and all the good things that we did,” guard Bradley Beal said when asked about the video. “They gave us a positive vibe. They gave us energy coming [into training camp] and to be able to get things done and get this thing underway.”
The Wizards took the court Saturday at Patriot Center for their first training camp session with 11 players returning from the previous season and several new pieces expected to add stability to a rebuilding effort the franchise hopes is near completion. They were without the injured Emeka Okafor (neck) and Chris Singleton (left foot), and both third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. and Trevor Booker were limited with ailments that aren’t considered serious.
But Wittman was excited to have both John Wall and Nene on the court to open his second training camp with the team. Wall and Nene were injured at this time last season, which contributed to the Wizards’ poor start. The Wizards began the season 5-28 without Wall, and though Nene made his debut after nine games, the team was 3-18 when he sat.
“What do you think? I feel great,” Wittman said when asked about having that duo around. “I was kidding John. He didn’t do anything until the first of January last year. He was basically on paid leave. Obviously, we miss Chris and Emek — you always want a healthy situation — but having those two guys back is important for our team. We know the importance that they play on this team. It’s not a hidden fact. So to have them here from Day One is going to be a plus for us.”
Wall encouraged his teammates to arrive in the District three weeks before practice to begin developing chemistry and going over schemes in preparation for the upcoming season. After describing himself as “miserable and bored” at this time last season, Wall is enthusiastic after the offseason additions of point guard Eric Maynor, power forward Al Harrington and rookies Porter and Glen Rice Jr.
“Everybody understands and respects what Coach is doing and what the coaching staff is doing, the organization, GM and owner has done this summer, adding guys and doing things in the draft,” Wall said. “We know what we’re capable of as a team. We just have to come in and play the same way we did last year: be a great defensive team and be a fast-paced [team] that gets out into the open court.”
The Wizards will head to Nene’s native Brazil for a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 12, so they were allowed to practice four days before most of the other teams in the NBA. With the extra time to prepare for the Oct. 8 preseason opener against Brooklyn, Wittman decided to take a different approach to training camp, usually a condensed and grueling exercise featuring two practices a day.
Wittman scheduled two-a-days but offered his team the incentive of just one practice depending on how well they perform. Wall added that the players probably will convene for their own evening sessions to put up extra shots on the days they only practice once.
“He’s rewarding us with a little break, so we really have to go hard,” Beal said. “Everybody got a pretty quick grasp on everything … so we’re looking good so far. It just made things so much easier because the chemistry is so high. We know how each other plays. We know where we’re going to be on the floor. We still remember plays, so everything just went quick today. That’s what Coach wants, and that’s what everybody should want. It went real smooth.”
Porter, however, is sidelined with a right hip flexor he injured a few weeks ago during a scrimmage at Verizon Center. Limited to riding a stationary bike and taking jumpers in place after practice, Porter said the injury wasn’t too serious and that he would take it day-by-day. But he is disappointed he couldn’t be a part of the festivities right away.
“Last year, the team went through so many different adversities, and it kind of brought the team closer together,” Porter said. “You see them competing, you definitely want to be out there with the teammates. But also you want to get a chemistry with them because they are great teammates. I definitely tried to keep a look out, how they are running plays and tried to stay focused and stay ahead.”