Emeka Okafor (left) led the Wizards in rebounding last season. (Brian Babineau/Getty Images)
The Wizards announced Wednesday that starting center Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely after tests revealed that he has a herniated disc in his neck.
Okafor, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft and a nine-year veteran, began feeling discomfort in his neck and an MRI confirmed that he was suffering from a herniated C4 cervical disc. Doctors hope that a rehabilitation program will be able to reduce the inflammation and correct the problem without surgery.
“I have worked hard over the summer and was looking forward to the start of training camp next week, so this is a disappointing and frustrating situation for me,” Okafor said in a statement. “But I have confidence that my teammates and coaches will be able to continue to take steps toward our goal of making the playoffs and that I will be able to do my part to help them once I return.”
It's unclear exactly how long Okafor will be sidelined, but Yahoo! Sports reported that he "hopes" to return during the 2013-14 season and that he's "not considering" retirement.
The 30-year-old center averaged 9.7 points, a team-leading 8.8 rebounds and 1 block in 26 minutes per game over 79 appearances for the Wizards last season. Together with Nene, Okafor helped lead a Wizards defense that ranked eighth in points allowed per possession. He will make a team-high $14.5 million in 2013-14, the final year of his current contract.
While Okafor didn't miss a game from 2007 until 2010, an ankle injury caused him to miss much of the 2005-06 season while a knee injury sidelined him for an extended period of time during the 2011-12 season.
“Emeka’s professionalism and dedication to taking care of his body are among the best I have ever seen during my time in this league as a player, coach and executive and I know that he will be diligent in his efforts to return to the court as soon as possible,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. “Until then, his absence will create opportunities for other players to step up and provide the rebounding and defense that Emeka normally contributes.”
Wizards coach Randy Wittman will have his hands full filling Okafor's minutes, given that training camp opens in little more than a week. No matter how you slice it, the fill-in options -- Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Al Harrington and Jan Vesely -- represent major downgrades. Washington is in a bit of a pinch, too, as they have already committed to 15 guaranteed contracts even though Okafor and Nene are the only players truly equipped to play center.
It's worth mentioning that veteran center Jason Collins, who spent the final months of last season in Washington before coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated article, is still unsigned. Surely he could be had for a minimum salary deal should the Wizards determine that Okafor's absence is likely to be a lengthy one and find a way to free up a roster spot.
Also Wednesday, Wizards forward Chris Singletonwas scheduled to have surgery after injuring his left foot during a workout Tuesday. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.