The Wizards held their annual preseason media day on Friday. Tonally speaking, this year's edition certainly had more glass half-full talk than previous versions. John Wall's rise and last season's second half surge leading to current playoff talk had something to do with the flowing optimism flowing.
Amid all the hope and change chatter, Emeka Okafor's uncertain neck injury makes Washington's starting center the odd man out.
"It’s awkward," Okafor said. "I was looking forward to starting this year and getting things kicked off right. Sometimes, you have plans and it doesn’t work out, man, so you have to make other ones and just roll with it. That’s what I’m doing right now."
Unlike his teammates, Okafor won't participate when the team opens training camp Saturday at George Mason because of a herniated disk. No return date has been revealed.
"It’s just being out of the mix. You’re there, but you not there and it’s just one of the consequences of being injured," said Okafor, who turns 31 on Saturday. "You're just kind of in the backburner, just chilling. As a competitor, you want to be out there with your teammates, just going through it. When you can’t, it’s not fun. But, I’m going to be working to get back ASAP."
He worked plenty last season, his first with Washington. In addition to playing in his 79 games, his most since 2009-10, Okafor led Washington in rebounding (8.8) while averaging 9.7 points and 1.0 block per game. No coincidence the Wizards became a top-10 defense after acquiring Okafor and Trevor Ariza before the start of last season.
"That's big, that's our anchor," Wall said about Okafor's absence. "He did a lot of stuff for us defensively, especially talking. Blocking shots and rebounding and did a key role for us offensively."
No Okafor means Nene slides from power forward to center, it means more minutes for Kevin Seraphin and Al Harrington, perhaps more for Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker.
As far as Okafor is concerned, his current predicament does not mean any less playoff talk.
"That’s more than reasonable," he said about the team reaching the postseason. "I think we should’ve been a playoff team last season. I think that if we just started with, had our roster, we would’ve been there.
"I think the offseason acquisitions we made this year makes us more solid. If we just pick up where we left off midseason, we’ll be just fine - despite my absence."