The broad smile and jovial attitude mask it well, but Nene is not happy. He wants to be on the court with his teammates, but his left foot won’t let him.
“I’m extremely mad right now,” Nene said. “But I need to calm down, talk to myself. When I see my teammates working hard out there, I want to be out there. I just don’t want that to influence my recovery.”
Nene has been hampered by a recurring case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot since the end of last season, when the Wizards acquired him from Denver for JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf at the trading deadline. In 11 games as a Wizard, Nene shot 61 percent, averaged 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists. The team went 7-4 with him on the court.
But he also missed 10 games with the foot injury that still has him sidelined, a condition he aggravated while playing for his native Brazil during the Summer Olympics in London.
“I don’t know when I’m coming back,” Nene said. “Last year, I was at about 90 percent, and it [his foot] still hurt. If I come back too soon, I’ll have to sit down again, and I don’t want that.”
Nene’s arrival signaled a culture change for the Wizards, who were viewed as immature and mistake-prone with a reserved seat at the NBA draft lottery. By adding a savvy, mature veteran at center, paired with John Wall at the point, the future suddenly looked brighter.
But at the moment, Nene is in a holding pattern. He manages to shrug off the uncertainty and the frustration of his injury with his upbeat demeanor, but it’s harder on him than he likes to admit.
“I want to wait until I’m 100 percent,” Nene said. “I don’t want to come back early and have the same problem.”
As he continues his treatment and rehab, Nene, 30, still makes his presence felt from the sideline. His teammates still look to him for advice, coach Randy Wittman goes over plays with him during practice and third-year center Kevin Seraphin hangs on his every word.
The deeply spiritual 6-foot-11 center, entering his 11th season, believes he was sent to Washington for a reason, which makes being unable to play even more difficult.
“God brought me here,” Nene said. “You saw the stats when I got here. God used me to change things here, and that’s what made me happy. I know I’m supposed to be here. My place is here now — new team, new teammates, new friends, new start.”
Although the circumstances of his trade to Washington were a surprise — he found out via Twitter before the Nuggets could tell him — the trade wasn’t.
“I knew at some point in my career I was going to be traded,” Nene said. “I knew it. Honestly, I did not think I was going to be in Denver forever. I believe God sent me somewhere else because that place is going to be better to me.”
Remaining faithful and patient throughout his career hasn’t been without its challenges. Nene missed all but one game of the 2005 season with a torn ACL, and played in just 16 games in 2008 after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Even though he’s out of the lineup indefinitely, Wittman is keeping him in the loop and is hopeful of having him back soon.