Nene had spent his entire 10-year career with the Denver Nuggets, and it was by all means a successful tenure. He established himself as a legitimate center upon entering the league at age 20 and has remained productive to this day. But his time in the Mile High City came to an abrupt end on March 15, when the Nuggets sent Nene to the Wizards in exchange for troubled young big JaVale McGee. And just like that, Nene had to begin anew.
As one might expect, the trade caught Nene completely off guard. After all, he had just signed a five-year extension with the Nuggets last year and had not been mentioned in any rumors leading up to the deadline. Nene accepted his fate, though, saying that he would put his trust in God and prepare for the road ahead.
His first game with the Wizards left fans feeling encouraged, as the Brazilian big recorded a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds in a 108-89 win over the Nets. Nene's home debut didn't go as well, unfortunately, as he had just six points and five rebounds in 31 minutes in an 85-83 loss to the Pacers.
The productive Nene returned this past Saturday, but his 21 points and 11 boards in 33 minutes weren't enough to power Washington past the Hawks in a 95-92 loss, the Wizards' fifth in the last seven games.
"We're trying to work Nene into position where we're comfortable, where he likes the ball and he's trying to be comfortable with what we're doing," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said before Sunday's game against the Boston Celtics. "We just have to continue to have a conscious effort of utilizing him in different ways and get him touches because he's such a willing passer and he makes a lot of the right decisions down there. We haven't had that, and sometimes we overlook that now and we've got to continue to grow in that regard."
Nene was scheduled to play against Boston on Sunday, but back spasms sidelined him. It was probably for the best, as the Wizards shot 14 percent in the first quarter and went on to lose to the Celtics, 88-76.
"Last two days I started feeling it a little bit, but (Saturday) before the game it was tight, but after the game I feel like old man," Nene said. "My back was really sore in the locker room. It was pretty tight, and this morning it was shut down. I did massage, I did physical therapy, and when I got here I did a couple exercises, and it was really hard for me."
Nene is only three games into his Wizards career, so it's far too soon for judgement. Given his track record, though, it's safe to say that he will have a productive tenure in the nation's capital. And if nothing else, his leadership is invaluable.
"Well there's no question," Wittman said. "His 10 years in the league and being in the playoffs and through the battles and stuff is a great benefit for us and for our young guys."
Wittman isn't the only one who thinks Nene and his leadership will do wonders for the team, either.
"I think it's a great trade for them," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "They have a consistent, low post scorer. They have a guy that can take care of the ball, plays the right way. I think they needed that, they needed a veteran. If you just wanted to forget all that other stuff, they needed a veteran on that team, in that locker room. I think that was a heck of a trade for them."
There have been some bumps in the road as Nene continues to get used to the Wizards' system, but that's to be expected. Overall, Wittman isn't concerned about how well Nene will mesh with his team.
"He's working through it, we're working through it," he said. "He picks things up very quickly, understands things, [he] has a good basketball IQ. As time moves forward, that's not going to be an issue."