Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza experienced a challenging season in New Orleans last season, as the Hornets dealt away franchise point guard Chris Paul, were owned by the NBA until the league could find a buyer, and regressed from a playoff team to the worst team in the Western Conference.
The turmoil was taxing, but getting drilled on a regular basis — including a late-season trouncing handed out by the Washington Wizards — was even worse.
“They say losing builds character,” Okafor said. “We have enough character from last year.”
Okafor and Ariza are actually joining a team that finished with one fewer win than New Orleans, but the two players are encouraged about the direction of the Wizards, who finished the season winning eight of their final 10 games and have two solid pieces in point guard John Wall and big man Nene.
The Wizards dealt the disappointing Rashard Lewis and his $13.7 million buyout to the Hornets on Wednesday for Okafor and Ariza, and the duo was in Washington two days later discussing how they planned to assume leadership roles on a team that features seven players with less than three years of experience and has two picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Okafor even invoked the possibility of making “a playoff push” — something the Wizards haven’t done in more than four years – and Ariza didn’t dispute him.