Washington Wizards, Remembering the Departing Free Agents: Nene


The Washington Wizards experienced a shift in their culture after they acquired Nene from the Denver Nuggets

John Wall has spent most of his NBA career getting people paid. Ever since he stepped foot inside the Verizon Center in 2010, Wall has been asked to carry the team and make the most of the little talent he’s been surrounded by.

During the first couple years of his career, Wall shared the court with one of the most dysfunctional groups in the league’s history.

As JaVale McGee ran back on defense while Wall watched in confusion with the ball in his hands, frustration overcame the entire fan base. Quite frankly, everyone was sick of watching the team rebuild with players that clearly weren’t going to develop into anything productive in Washington.

Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche – two players that were a part of Washington’s new big three according to the team owner – did nothing but help the team lose games for the first two seasons of Wall’s career.

Then on March 16, 2012, Ernie Grunfeld finally decided it was time to shake up the failing rebuild.

The Washington Wizards traded McGee, who was due for a large contract extension, to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Nene, who the Denver Nuggets evidently regretted re-signing.

Finally, the Wizards had an established player they could pair along side Wall, giving the fan base and the organization some hope for change.

Unlike many of the aforementioned players, Nene was used to success with the Nuggets. Following a couple of successful stints in the NBA Playoffs with Carmelo Anthony, losing just wasn’t a part of Nene’s routine like it had become to many in D.C.

Dropping 22 points and 10 rebounds in his debut with the Wizards, Nene’s first game was more impressive than anything McGee ever did for the district’s team.

From that point forward, the Wizards had a piece they could constantly rely on when healthy. Wall and Nene quickly gained chemistry and the big Brazilian helped lead the team to consecutive postseason appearances in 2014 and 2015.

His playoff dominance against Joakim Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, will never be forgotten by Washington Wizards fans.

The Wizards were viewed as the underdog despite the fact Chicago was missing some key players, and Nene set the tone right out of the gate.

He hit Noah with bully-like post moves, step back jump shots and nullified his production on the other end.

Washington, for the first time in what felt like forever, was on the map because of Nene.

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He played at an All-Star level when the team needed him most and truly didn’t care about the team’s status as underdog.

His physicality was too much at times – he was suspended for a playoff game in the first round against Chicago after getting into it with a relatively unknown prospect named Jimmy Butler – but it gave the Wizards their identity.

Nene led the way and the Washington Wizards became a big, bruising team that no one wanted to see on their schedule.

But like all good things, Nene’s time in Washington came to an end this summer.

Nene will be remembered for helping the Wizards achieve legitimate success, but his career was plagued by injuries, just as it was in Denver.

For some reason, the man just couldn’t catch a break. Whenever he found his rhythm, nagging injuries got the best of him and he would ultimately miss several weeks of action for sprains and tweaks.

Nene’s career will always be synonymous with injuries, but he did what he needed to do in Washington. He, along with a couple of other much-needed veterans, changed the culture of basketball in D.C.

The team has opted to go in a different direction this summer, citing the need for young, versatile big men. Grunfeld and the rest of the front office made the right decision to move on. Still, it’s important not to forget how important Nene was to changing the way the team operates.

Next: Building a Homegrown Superstar: John Wall

Nene is now nearing the end of his career and signed agreed to a one-year deal with the Houston Rockets. A team that needed physicality, defense and a flat out menace inside got exactly that. For all of the appreciative Washington Wizards fans, Nene will always be remembered as the angry dude who gave us hope and a little taste of winning. And for that, we thank him.