Things are going well for the Washington Wizards. John Wall is a year older.
And wait, there’s more: General manager Ernie Grunfeld’s over emphasis on youth has been tempered by the arrival of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okefor and (equally important) the exit of the talented but immature Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in the draft, is on board. And so is Randy Wittman, the head coach who earned an extension by going 18-31, including 8-2 over the last three weeks of 2011-12. If nothing else, firing Flip Saunders in January stripped away one more layer of Kevlar from Grunfeld, whose longevity in the nation’s capital almost cries out for term limits.
But -– you knew a “but” was coming, or at least a “however” — the optimism of a productive summer and a clean autumn slate got cut a little Tuesday when Grunfeld said that center/power forward Nene’s plantar fasciitis would limit him in training camp next week.
The Brazilian center, acquired from Denver in March, played in just 14 of 25 games with Washington. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 25.8 minutes, shooting 60.7 percent, but was hobbled by the pain in his left foot. That condition flared up at the Olympics in August, as Gene Wang of the Washington Post noted after Grunfeld’s media gathering Tuesday.
Playing for Brazil, Nene’s condition apparently became acute during a game against Australia. Nene scored 10 points and added seven rebounds in a 75-71 win in the opening round but walked with a slight limp after the game.
“He hasn’t had must time to rest this summer because of the commitment he had to his national team,” Grunfeld said of Nene, who missed a game in the Olympics because of soreness in his left foot. “So we’re going to be very, very cautious. We’re going to take it very slow with him and make sure he’s 100 percent when we put him out there full time.”
Nene has averaged 6.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in four games for Brazil and missed 10 consecutive games for the Wizards with the foot problem in April but returned to play the final five games, all victories.
In 11 games with the Wizards, Nene helped the team go 7-4 and outscore opponents by 10.3 points in the games he played. The Wizards led by double digits in the second half of three of those games before losing in the final minute.
Fans in Denver and Washington have grown frustrated by Nene’s health issues, though there’s no comparing plantar fasciitis or even his 2005 knee injury with the cancerous testicular tumor the big man overcame in 2007-08. The 6-foot-11 native of Sao Carlos returned to average 14.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 31.7 minutes over the past four seasons and earned a five-year, $67 million contract last December.
The Wizards are OK in the short term while waiting for Nene’s recovery, with Okafor and Kevin Seraphin as options in the middle. Still, Nene has gone through more than his share – he was a rock of friendship and insight for Nuggets coach George Karl in his more recent bout with neck and throat cancer – so the least his achy left foot could do would be to cooperate.