Unseld Jr. explains why he removed Gafford from rotation


After starting all of the previous 45 games he's played in this season, Wizards center Daniel Gafford was not only removed from the starting lineup on Saturday night against the Grizzlies, he was pulled from the rotation altogether. It was a remarkable turn of events for a player the Wizards signed to a contract extension just three months prior.

Granted, it was just one game, but there were also indications it could be a sign of more to come. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. explained after the Wizards' loss - their fifth straight - that the Wizards have officially cut their center rotation down from three players to two. 

"Trying to play the three bigs, it became very choppy. I know the guys didn't like it, I didn't necessarily like it," Unseld Jr. said.

That right there was a public admission of what had become increasingly clear. Since the Wizards welcomed Thomas Bryant back from his ACL injury, they have had to juggle playing three capable centers between Bryant, Gafford and also Montrezl Harrell. The plan up until Saturday's game was to start Gafford for about six minutes to begin the game, then go to Bryant and then Harrell for nearly equal time.

The sparse minutes for each player made it difficult for anyone to establish and maintain a rhythm. Unseld Jr. explained the decision to demote Gafford as more related to that dynamic than his performance. Gafford, for his part, had 12 points in 12 minutes in his last game, on Tuesday against the Clippers.


Unseld Jr. and the coaching staff were hoping to get a look at Bryant alongside the other four starters, having already seen Gafford with that group and Bryant with the second unit. After getting a few games under Bryant's belt, the Wizards feel he can play more for longer stretches after his long layoff.

"Now that we've eclipsed that, there are still minute limitations, but he's cleared the hurdle to run out there and play. Why not start him and give it a look with that starting group and see how it goes," Unseld Jr. said.

Unseld Jr. said the team plans to "give it a stretch and see how it goes." He later confirmed that meant Bryant is expected to be the starter for the time being and that the Wizards will only play two centers.

The question moving forward becomes whether Gafford fits into that equation at all. Will it be Bryant and Harrell in more permanent roles, or will it be more match-up based, leaving the door open for Gafford to play some?

What made Saturday's loss interesting is they got pummeled at center by Grizzlies big man Steven Adams. He had 15 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end, the most any player has had against the Wizards in a decade. The Grizzlies had 21 offensive boards as a team, the most the Wizards have allowed this season.

Both Bryant and Harrell struggled. Defensively, they saw the Grizzlies score 60 points in the paint. On offense, they combined for 10 points, while Bryant shot 2-for-8 from the field.

Unseld Jr. was asked point-blank if Gafford would have fared better against Adams.

"You could argue that. I can only speculate, I don't know," he said.

Gafford is the latest Wizards player to get cut out of the rotation. He joins Davis Bertans, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday. The Wizards essentially played nine guys on Saturday, which Unseld Jr. also said could be the case moving forward.

Surely, Gafford still fits into the Wizards' future given his age, contract and past performance. But for now, he's on the outside of their rotation looking in.