- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nene has been called a top-10 center in the NBA by several league analysts. If healthy, he could be a major piece of the rebuild the Washington Wizards began last year when they drafted point guard John Wall and ended the run of the former “Big Three” of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

The Wizards acquired Nene from the Denver Nuggets and picked up Brian Cook and a future draft pick from the Los Angeles Clippers before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline while shipping out JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Ronny Turiaf.

McGee and Turiaf headed to Denver for Nene, while Young joined the Clippers in return for Cook and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and president Ernie Grunfeld have stated for more than a year that the Wizards plan to build through the draft and develop their young players, but with youth came the problems of immaturity and lack of focus.

With Nene, 29, the Wizards have immediately improved their maturity factor while acquiring a player who is young enough to be a part of the team’s future plans.

Nene is a versatile player who will bring experience and a physical presence to our front court,” Grunfeld in a statement released by the team. “He is a strong rebounder, tough defender, and a fierce competitor. His veteran leadership and postseason experience will be a positive influence in our locker room.”

There are questions surrounding the 6-foot-11 Brazilian center, mostly surrounding his health. Nene had a cancer scare in 2008, and took a medical leave of absence from the team from January through March of that year to receive treatment.

Prior to that, Nene dealt with several significant knee injuries during the 2005 season, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a sprained medial collateral ligament and a torn meniscus.

Although the Nuggets last season signed him to a five-year extension worth $67 million, league sources indicated that the Nuggets weren’t completely sold on Nene’s ability to live up to his contract. But the Nuggets like the flexibility they will have with McGee, who will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

A Wizards source who spoke on the condition of anonymity believes that Nene, assuming he is able to remain healthy, is an upgrade over McGee and is a much better long-term fit with Wall.

During his nine-year NBA career, Nene has career averages of 12.4 points per game and 7.0 rebounds. This season, he is averaging 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds.

“An opportunity always presents itself for guys in this league,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman told reporters shortly before the Wizards played the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday.

Wittman was unable to discuss the details prior to the game, but had to come up with a game plan that did not include Young or MacGee. Turiaf was still out with a broken hand.

“It’s an opportunity for guys who maybe haven’t been in the rotation before, but guys are going to have to step up,” Wittman said. “We’ve been in this situation before, whether it’s due to injuries or trades. I’ve got confidence in the guys who are going to to play.”



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