- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When the Washington Wizards acquired sagely Nene from the Denver Nuggets in 2012, they sent out JaVale McGee and Nick Young as part of the three-team trade. McGee and Young were brothers in buffoonery, noted for numerous instances of brain cramps, including the time a video made its way around the Internet showing the duo engaged in the “Cinnamon Challenge.” They were swallowing spoonfuls of the spice.

To contrast the view, and actions, of Nene versus those two, turn to an NBA veteran. Amar’e Stoudemire was drafted ninth overall in 2002, the year Nene was selected seventh. They are both 33. They had a throwback battle to their days in the Western Conference on Jan. 20. It was a less athletic endeavor in 2016 than, say, 2008, but Stoudemire and Nene were still going at it in the post. For years out west, they had tried to dunk on each other with ferocity. Afterward, their conversations were amicable because of how each carried themselves.

Nene and I are friends, first and foremost,” Stoudemire said. “We know how the game is — it’s a beautiful game to play. It’s a game of integrity, it’s a game of enthusiasm and competitiveness. I think we both understand that over the years.”

Playing right, and all that entails, was the point when the Wizards acquired Nene. He’s borderline menacing on the floor, philosophical off it, and likely done in Washington. The final year of his contract ended with the Wizards not in the playoffs. Up next is the Summer Olympics in his home country of Brazil. After that, who knows?

“I remember when I came here five years ago how the team was and how the team is right now,” Nene said. “I tip my hat for the fans, the city, the team. I make friends here. The way the city embraced, the way they support me — really support the team — we changed completely. Nothing but thank you for what they’ve done for us.”

There is a distinct mixture to Nene’s four-plus seasons with the Wizards. He was their best post and pick-and-roll defender. He had injury problems before being acquired that persisted in Washington, where he averaged just 60 games per seasons in his four full seasons.

He defined his physical play in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls in 2014 when he averaged 17.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and at least one near-scuffle per game. From then on, whenever asked about Chicago, Nene used the short time he would speak to make clear he did not like the Bulls. Much of that stemmed from his forehead-to-forehead conversation with Jimmy Butler in Game 3 of the first-round series. Antagonistic Bulls center Joakim Noah just added heat to the boil.

His teammates wondered what would come when Nene went onto the floor. At times, his efforts to be physical led to foul trouble and an uneventful night. Others, the Wizards could run the offense through his adept passing and post moves.

Nene was huge,” general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “Nene came from a winning environment. … He changed the whole culture. He gave us toughness. Defense. He gave us some good rebounding. He’s a team player.

“I think that was the first big piece to the new culture that we tried to create.”

He was also reluctant to play center, which was his role last season with the Wizards. Desperate to spread the floor, then-Washington coach Randy Wittman decided to make Nene the backup to Marcin Gortat as opposed to his frontcourt mate. The change contributed to defensive and rebounding problems, though playing Nene and Gortat together also had drawbacks.

“Too much stretch,” Nene said. “A lot of stretch. Stretch it here and stretch it there. Too much stretch. It was a distraction. That’s what I can say about the season.”

In keeping with his traditional media policy, Nene’s final interview was brief and after his teammates had departed. He often declined to talk on the record. Almost as often, he was willing to talk off of it, as long as the topic was not basketball.

“Actions better than words,” Nene said. “I don’t like to talk because a lot of people talk. I prefer to represent in action.”

He delivered a you-must-be-crazy-to-ask smile when asked if he still wanted to play in the NBA after his 14th season was complete. That means, next fall, the priority for Nene will be the same.

He’s desperate for a championship.

“I know I look old,” Nene said. “I know you can see all those gray hairs on my face. But, what God put inside me, the fire he put inside of me — until I conquer my dream, I don’t want to stop.”

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