Nene was back on the Wizards practice court at Verizon Center this weekend for the first time since the NBA regular season ended back in April. His Brazil teammates joked with him that he was home, and I asked him in a brief interview after the team’s practice on Sunday morning – he couldn’t talk for long because it was his baby son’s first birthday – if he was happy to be back.
“I ain’t going to say that expression because this is the national team,” Nene said, trying to stick to the task at hand, preparing to represent his country at the Olympics later this month.
But when asked how much he’d been thinking about the Wizards since his departure, Nene quickly said, “A lot.”
“A lot of good things, man, a lot of trades,” he said. “Bradley Beal, I knew it. He’s a great kid, very humble, very mature for his age, and he’s a nice addition to the team.”
Beal, of course, is only at the beginning of his career, two years behind John Wall, the two young cornerstones of the Wizards franchise. Nene, who arrived with his decade of NBA experience via trade in March, is the third.
The Wizards were transformed as soon as he put on the Washington uniform, even when he didn’t play. And team owner Ted Leonsis was struck by the conviction of Nene’s opinion about the team going forward when he came in for his exit interview.
“When I say something, I try to put the best thought for the team, about players, about whatever,” Nene said. “I was like that in Denver, and I’m going to be the same here. I just try to give my point. I’m not the manager. I’m not the owner. I’m not the coach. I just give my advice, and that is good. We is in the right way, the right direction, and the team has changed. I can promise you we’re going to work hard, and we’re going to shut down a lot of mouths who are talking a lot of things about us.”
That assertion may the strongest of any Wizards player this summer, and all of them think the Wizards are ready to fight for a playoff spot next season. What will Nene’s role be? I asked him about how he expects to play with Emeka Okafor.
“I don’t know,” Nene said. “That is the coach’s decision. But we have quality big men. I’m so happy for that. We have [Kevin] Seraphin, he improve a lot. We have [Trevor] Booker, he’s a great player, left handed and explosive, and he learn a lot, too. [Jan] Vesely is athletic; he’s starting learning through summer league and then he’ll be back.”
Nene himself still isn’t quite settled in Washington, needing still to find himself a permanent home. But that’s a job for later this summer. He’s also taking his time with the run-up to London, playing down expectations for Brazil on Monday, when they’ll be underdogs against the U.S.
“It’s very important to be here, to play on this stage, in this arena, in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “[Playing in front of] the President, it’ll be cool.”