WASHINGTON -- Before Friday's game against the Spurs, the Wizards' first game back from the All-Star break, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said during his press conference there would be a change to the starting lineup. He wouldn't specify what it was, however, opting to wait until 30 minutes before tip-off, the deadline to do so.
While that may have kept the Spurs guessing, the change was ultimately a familiar one. Daniel Gafford was back in there as the starting center, replacing Thomas Bryant. Gafford started the first 45 games he played this season before getting supplanted in late January.
While Bryant was dealing with a right ankle injury ahead of Friday's double-overtime loss, that was not the reason why Gafford got the start. As Unseld Jr. explained later on, it's Gafford's job once again for the foreseeable future.
"I don't necessarily want to say for the remainder of the season, but for now, until I decide otherwise," Unseld Jr.
Though the Wizards lost to the Spurs in a 157-153 thriller that was basically entirely devoid of defense, Gafford rewarded his coach for the move. The 23-year-old had 17 points, six rebounds and a block in 29 minutes. It was his biggest scoring night since New Year's Day.
Gafford was appreciative of the opportunity and admitted the last month has been difficult for him. Not only was he pushed into a bench role, there were stretches where he was out of the rotation entirely.
"It was tough. There was a lot of frustration, but at the end of the day I want to be a good teammate. I didn't want to wear my feelings on my sleeve. There were times where I did, but at the end of the day I can't bring that type of energy around the team. I apologize to the team for that, the times that I did do it," he said.
That wasn't the first time Gafford apologized for apparently showing his displeasure with his role. Exactly how he acted out is unclear. He never complained about it publicly.
Regardless of that, it's now in the past. Gafford is back as the starter and, according to Unseld Jr., the initial plan was to do this sooner.
When Bryant was promoted to the starting lineup, Unseld Jr. explained it as purely about seeing how he played alongside the other starters. Gafford starting once again is essentially a sign that trial period is over.
"It kind of goes back actually, we talked about getting T.B. a long look of games. We were transitioning back to Gaff as a starter and then he got COVID. He missed an amount of time. Overall, I think just the defensive presence was the biggest key. T.B. does a lot of good things, so it's not a knock at him at all. But we had some success early with Gaff and that starting group and we want to go back to that," Unseld Jr. said.
Gafford missed five games across a two-week period in health and safety protocols. Along the way, the Wizards traded Montrezl Harrell, their third center.
Things could change once again once Kristaps Porzingis returns from his right knee bone bruise, which caused him to miss his 11th straight game on Friday night. It seems he has a good chance to start at center, unless the Wizards choose to go with a very big lineup and move Kyle Kuzma over to the three.
So, it's Gafford's job for now. Either way, it appears he will have a larger role moving forward.