With the regular season opener in a month, the Washington Wizards reported to training camp on Monday afternoon following media day at Verizon Center in which the sobering reality that point guard John Wall and center Nene won’t be on the court tempered optimism for a fresh start.
Wall, the first pick of the 2010 draft, is expected to miss eight weeks with a stress injury that could turn into a fracture in his left patella, the Wizards announced last week. Nene, meantime, revealed his recovery from plantar fasciitis in his left foot is moving along cautiously.
It was the first time since the summer Nene addressed in depth the injury that forced him to miss one game while playing for Brazil in the Olympics. The foot ailment also cost him 10 games during the NBA regular season after coming to the Wizards from the Denver Nuggets at the trade deadline.
“Well, I don’t give a specific time,” Nene said when asked if he thought he could be back before the conclusion of the one-week training camp at George Mason. “I’m going to control my actions and go to therapy and rest and do whatever I possibly can to get well.”
The Wizards were 7-4 with Nene in the lineup, and in three of those losses they were unable to preserve double-digit leads. They went 3-8 without him. Five of those losses were by at least a dozen points, underscoring how valuable his presence can be to a franchise that’s been a regular participant in the NBA draft lottery.
The Wizards committed $52 million to Nene over the next four years after he endured a pair of significant setbacks during his career. Nene played three minutes in 2005-06 following a right knee injury and, two seasons later, testicular cancer forced him to miss all but 16 games.
In an effort to fortify the front and alleviate some of the burden from Nene, the Wizards in June added center Emeka Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza in exchange for Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick.
They also have, among others, forward-center Brian Cook, another trade-deadline acquisition, and holdovers Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker. Both players have earned praise from the coaching staff for their rugged work under the basket.
“Whenever you have injuries, they’re tough, but they’re part of the game,” said Okafor, one of eight players not on the roster at the start of last season who’s expected to contribute considerably this year.
That group includes Jannero Pargo, signed on Monday. The 6-foot-1 point guard began his NBA career in 2002 with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’s since been on five clubs, including the Wizards.
Pargo is among a handful of players in line for playing time while Wall nurses his ailing knee. The Wizards also signed A.J. Price as a free agent in July, and 2011 second-round pick Shelvin Mack served as Wall’s primary backup last season.
“I think a lot of players are kind of upset,” Mack said of the reaction to the injury to Wall, one of three NBA players to average 16 points and eight assists last season. “We’ve got a lot of high expectations for this season. It’s just a bump in the road. He’s a great guy. He’s going to go through the process to get back healthy and come back as soon as possible.”
The Wizards in the interim will use training camp in large part to determine the rotation at point guard and the crowded front court while assessing the progress of rookie Bradley Beal. The shooting guard was the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft and arrives at a time when the Wizards are faced with a dearth of outside shooters.
Of Washington’s top five scorers from last season, only Jordan Crawford will be participating in training camp when it begins in earnest on Tuesday. Gone are leading scorer Nick Young and JaVale McGee, who was fifth in scoring. Wall was the Wizards’ second leading scorer and Nene fourth.
“There’s been a lot of good changes, and it brings a good vibe here,” Crawford said. “You can kind of feel it today. Everybody’s excited, from [the media] to the players. [Wall’s injury] is a setback because he’s a major component to the team, but it’s time for everybody to step up until he’s back.”