Last season, the New Orleans Hornets traded away franchise point guard Chris Paul, and descended from a playoff team to the worst team in the Western Conference. To say the least, it was a very challenging year for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
"They say losing builds character," Okafor said. "We have enough character from last year."
Okafor and Ariza like the fact that the Wizards have two solid pieces in John Wall and Nene, not to mention that the team finished last season by winning eight of its last 10. The Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and his $13.7 million buyout to the Hornets last week for Okafor and Ariza.
Since arriving in Washington, Okafor has talked about the possibility of making "a playoff push," and Ariza concurred with his sentiments. Keep in mind the Wizards haven't made the playoffs in more than four years.
"I know how hard he works on his body," Ariza said about Okafor. "I know how hard he works on the floor as well. I've played against Nene so many times the last few years. I know what he's capable of. Watching this young team and the talent they already have here and trying to help them grow. I definitely think this can be a playoff team."
Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center, won an NCAA title at Connecticut as a junior, was picked second overall in the 2004 draft and has averaged 12.9 points and 10.1 rebounds in a seven-year career with New Orleans and Charlotte. Ariza, a 6-8 small forward, won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, and is currently on his sixth team in eight years.
"They want us to come in, and I assume we would come in and play right away and start," Okafor said. They want us to take a veteran role, a veteran leadership kind of role. Just bring a sense of professionalism, show the young guys how to work and how to conduct themselves."
Ariza had played in a pickup game in Los Angeles with Wall on the same day he learned they would be teammates. He came away excited about the future in Washington.
"I can't believe that someone can move that fast with the basketball, Ariza said. That explosiveness, and from what I've seen, he's also been knocking down shots. His jumper is looking really, really, really good, for those who haven't seen him lately."