Best Potential Nene Replacement Options for Washington Wizards
UPDATE: Monday, Feb. 24 at 4:50 p.m. ET by D.J. Foster: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports, "After initial fears of a season-ending knee injury, Washington center Nene has suffered only a sprained left MCL, league source tells Yahoo." Also according to Wojnarowski, "Nene is expected to be lost to the Wizards for four-to-six weeks, league source tells Yahoo."
UPDATE: Monday, Feb. 24 at 5:12 p.m. ET by Ethan Norof: ESPN's Marc Stein reports the Wizards are "likely" to sign Drew Gooden (remember him?) to a 10-day contract.
—End of Update—
There aren't many players in the league who have suffered more health setbacks in their career than Washington Wizards center Nene has. Unfortunately, another one may be on the way.
There is a fear among some members of the Washington Wizards that Nene is done for the season with a torn ligament in his left knee, although the team won’t know for certain until the Brazilian big man meets with team doctors and has an MRI exam on Monday. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, “It doesn’t look good.”
If Nene is indeed out for the season or an extended period of time, how can the Wizards replace one of their best players in advance of a playoff run? Let's take a look at five options for the Wizards to explore.
Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker
While it's likely the Wizards would seek out at least some help from the outside for depth purposes, especially after trading backup big man Jan Vesely at the deadline, the bulk of the load will likely fall on players that are already on the roster.
That's primarily because the Wizards won't be able to receive a Disabled Player Exception for Nene if he's lost for the season since the deadline to file has already passed, and because the Wizards are within $2 million of going into the luxury tax. This is probably the worst timing possible for a major injury, especially because the trade deadline has come and gone.
Maybe the one saving grace is that the Wizards can add a player via free agency before March 1 and still have him be eligible for the playoff roster. With an open roster spot, Washington will most certainly be looking at players who are being bought out in addition to any other options.
As for Nene's replacements currently on the roster, Kevin Seraphin will likely pick up most of the load. Replacing Nene's impact on both ends will be awfully difficult, but Serpahin at least provides similar size and rebounding ability. Per 36 minutes this year, Seraphin is averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, with better shooting percentages across the board than Nene.
While he's obviously not the passer or anywhere near the defender Nene is, Seraphin does have a lot of natural ability. There are plenty of little things in terms of positioning and awareness Washington will miss dearly with Nene, but Seraphin is the most talented player they'll find to replace Nene at this point.
High-energy forward Trevor Booker should see an increase in minutes as well and a likely starting spot with Marcin Gortat sliding over to the 5. Booker is a great offensive rebounder and hustle player, but he's limited in what he can do because of a lack of size and skill.
Washington may also look to go small more often, with Trevor Ariza and maybe even rookie forward Otto Porter playing some small-ball 4 in certain situations. Because of this, backup swingman Martell Webster will probably start to see more minutes as well. Replacing Nene won't be an easy job, but the majority of the minutes will likely be absolved by players already on the team.
PF Ivan Johnson
After starting the year with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China after going unsigned this offseason, Johnson appears to be a popular name on the market now that he's available once again and out of his contract obligation overseas.
If they are indeed interested, the Wizards should be able to offer Johnson the most playing time of any team given their lack of frontcourt depth.
Johnson would certainly bring some toughness and a nice mid-range jumper to Washington, although he lacks the size to play the 5 at just 6'8". Marcin Gortat will have to man the middle more than ever in this scenario, although it sounds like he's still holding out hope Nene will return, based on his comments to Michael Lee of the Washington Post.
“We’re hoping that he is going to be back soon,” Marcin Gortat said after the game. “We’re hoping it’s nothing too serious. Obviously, he’s going to have to take probably a few days off to make sure he’s going to be get better and get that knee right.”
Johnson should be a nice pairing with Gortat, as he combines some of the best aspects of Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. With a career 15.1 PER and per 36 minute averages of 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in his two years with Atlanta, the 29-year-old forward seems like a solid option to soak up 15 to 20 minutes a night.
SF/PF Earl Clark
It's been a whirlwind year for Earl Clark. After seemingly revitalizing his career with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, Clark landed with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason.
After struggling to produce in Mike Brown's system, the Cavs traded Clark at the deadline to the Philadelphia 76ers for Spencer Hawes. Since then, Clark has been waived and is now able to sign wherever he pleases.
Clark's best bet might be to go somewhere he can play as a small-ball 4 almost exclusively, where he can find mismatches with much more regularity. Some of the issues in Cleveland were that the Cavs didn't run enough, and there was very rarely any space for driving lanes, which essentially took away two of Clark's biggest strengths.
Washington already has the means to go a little smaller and focus more on transition opportunities with John Wall leading the way, so perhaps Clark could help bring about a shift. As it stands, the Wizards are 18th in pace and 21st in offensive efficiency, so maybe a change in philosophy wouldn't be the worst thing.
At 6'10", Clark can still help on the boards and provide some speed on the frontline. He's not nearly as productive as his size and skill set would lead you to believe, but if he's playing fast and free, Clark can help a team that wants to get out and run.
C Chris Wilcox
Chris Wilcox hasn't generated a whole lot of buzz on the free agent market, but if the Wizards want to bring in a reliable big man with legitimate size to play the 5 and take some of the pressure off Marcin Gortat, he's not a bad option at all.
The 31-year-old center was last seen in Boston during the 2012-13 season, where he posted a solid 15.3 PER and a 71.9 field-goal percentage.
Wilcox doesn't try to do anything he isn't capable of offensively, and despite not being a great shot-blocker, he understands positioning and how defensive rotations work. His athleticism isn't quite what it once was, but Wilcox can still run the floor and finish a lob.
The upside to this signing would be limited, but there aren't many available centers who have performed at the level Wilcox did last year. It's a bit of a surprise he hasn't been mentioned more often.
PF Antawn Jamison
At age 37, it's hard to say how much Antawn Jamison has left in the tank. It's also hard to say how much he'd help the Washington Wizards, but something does feel right about Jamison ending his career in the nation's capital.
Jamison spent the prime of his career with the Wizards, playing six seasons and earning two All-Star selections. He's one of the most highly regarded players in the franchise's history, and after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks, he's available to sign.
Although he performed poorly in 248 minutes for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Jamison isn't that far removed from a productive offensive season with the Lakers. Since he's always relied on funky little flip shots around the rim and spot-up jumpers, you'd like to think Jamison can still provide that, even with his athleticism sapped.
The bigger concerns, of course, are on the defensive side of the ball. Playing Jamison with Trevor Booker or Kevin Seraphin is asking for trouble defensively, as Jamison is limited in just about every way on that end. Based on what head coach Randy Wittman seems to value, this might not be the best available match, even if it would make for a great story.