Nene had three words about the possibility of being shifted to center next season, which could mean a role behind Marcin Gortat rather than being the starting power forward for the Wizards: "I hope not."
It was a deadpan remark. Nene attempted to smooth it over with a smile afterwards, but make no mistake that Nene despises the idea of playing too far under the basket entering the final year of a contract that will play him $13 million in 2015-16. His contract is fully guaranteed and releasing him would do nothing to alleviate the salary cap hit.
When the Wizards were at their best in the postseason, however, they moved Nene to center, or kept Gortat there, while Paul Pierce shifted from small forward and Otto Porter occupied the three spot.
"Obviously playing small is successful for us. Playing faster. Those are the things I want to try to improve this team moving forward," coach Randy Wittman said Monday during exit interviews at Verizon Center. "Being able to play smaller. Being able to play faster. ... We've got to be able to have the pieces to do that in the regular season."
Nene dealt with soreness in his knees and feet again this season, and he was a frequent target of criticism during the Wizards' six-game, Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
But for the Wizards to make it to the next level, they'll likely have to use a player to stretch the floor at Nene's preferred position. He's not a three-point shooter and is better at facilitating from the post. Drew Gooden also can stretch the floor to the three-point arc and Kris Humphries is working diligently to add this layer to his arsenal.
Gortat gave a ringing endorsement of going to a smaller lineup -- meaning, not sharing the floor with Nene -- because it gives him more space to operate the pick-and-roll with John Wall. Wall, the franchise player, is fully on board with the plan to do it for 82 games.
"That's what the league is turning into -- a lot of stretch forwards. They've got one high line guy that goes and gets it at the rim and other guys are stretch forwards," Wall said. "That's what we see when we play like that, we're a pretty good team, spacing the court, attacking. That's how a lot of teams are playing so that's something you've got to look into for the near future."
Now the task is to get Nene, 32, there. But going back two seasons ago, when Gortat was acquired less than a week before 2013-14 began in a trade, it was Nene who started at center in the opener at the Detroit Pistons. It's the only time that Gortat has played for Washington when he didn't start.
The Wizards were decimated in the paint and Nene, who sat out the next game with an injured left calf, lamented having to bang down low with Andre Drummond. He declared then that he wasn't a center. There are some things to figure out before training camp.
"How intense it is, that's the only concern," Nene said of his role next season possibly as a center.
He would be open to coming off the bench would could allow Nene to maintain his spot at power forward. He appeared in 67 games this season, his most in four years. But Nene only averaged 25.3 minutes, his lowest output in a full season since 2004-05 with the Denver Nuggets when he mostly was used as a reserve.
"As we saw down the stretch, he played some 5, he and March in that situation. Him playing that position doesn't make it a lesser role," Wittman said. "We've got to look at what works best for who we have here. ... With what John does and the pace of play, we've got to play fast."