There’s no need for Emeka Okafor to think about it over the summer. He will be back with the Wizards for the 2013-14 season, he told CSN Washington.
Okafor is due to make $14.48 million and has a player-option on whether to terminate it and become a free agent. That he will stay seems like a no-brainer, unless he wants to latch on to a championship contender and take a steep paycut. It won't become official until the signing period opens July 1. Okafor makes $13.49 million this season.
He won't command anywhere near that in the open market, but he contends that his reasons go beyond dollars and cents. The Wizards (27-46) have shown promise even though they’re just 10th in the Eastern Conference entering Monday.
“My plan is to be here next year,” Okafor said Sunday after contributing 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 109-92 win vs. the Toronto Raptors. “My mind-set is to be here next year. I just think that this team has a lot of potential. If we had everybody healthy, it would be a different around here. We’d be playing for (playoff) position.”
The Wizards began the season with 12 consecutive losses and without their two best players, John Wall and Nene, because of injuries. They've lost rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal for 18 games.
When told of Okafor's comments, coach Randy Wittman was delighted.
"Hallelujah," he said. "He's been a big part of what we've done. He's had a fantastic year. ... If you look at all your good teams that make the playoffs, your best players play the majority of the games. You don't have any control over injuries. ... That's got to be our focus now at the end of the year is get ourselves as healthy as we can in the off-season that we come back and we got our group ready to go from Day One. We didn't have that this year."
Just last week the Wizards only had eight players in uniform. Okafor missed a game with the flu, and forward Trevor Ariza and center Jason Collins caught the bug and missed games, too.
Okafor is averaging a career-low 9.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in his ninth season. He’d averaged double figures in his first seven that he spent with the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets before being traded to Washington before this season. Okafor averaged a double-double in his first five years.
His 48.4% field-goal shooting is his lowest since 2005—06, his second in the NBA. But when Wall returned Jan. 12 from a left knee stress injury, Okafor’s play improved. In 38 games with Wall, Okafor's averages are 11.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 50.4% shooting.
Unfortunately, the Wizards’ performance against lower rung teams with hasn't gotten better. They lost to the league’s two worst teams, the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic, recently. They've also dropped games to the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons twice each, the Cleveland Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving and the Philadelphia 76ers among others.
“I've thought about it every which way,” Okafor said of the what-if scenarios. “Part of it is being a young team learning how to take advantage of situations. Next year, I don’t see that happening as much. If everybody was healthy at the start, we’d be at a different point right now.”