The Washington Times Daily - - Sports -

state­ment re­leased by the team. “He is a strong re­bounder, tough de­fender, and a fierce com­peti­tor. His vet­eran lead­er­ship and post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence will be a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence in our locker room.”

There are ques­tions sur­round­ing the 6-foot-11 Brazil­ian cen­ter, mostly sur­round­ing his health. Nene had a can­cer scare in 2008, and took a med­i­cal leave of ab­sence from the team from Jan­uary through March of that year to re­ceive treat­ment.

Prior to that, Nene dealt with sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant knee in­juries dur­ing the 2005 sea­son, in­clud­ing a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, a sprained me­dial col­lat­eral lig­a­ment and a torn menis­cus.

Although the Nuggets last sea­son signed him to a five-year ex­ten­sion worth $67 mil­lion, league sources in­di­cated that the Nuggets weren’t com­pletely sold on Nene’s abil­ity to live up to his con­tract. But the Nuggets like the flex­i­bil­ity they will have with Mcgee, who will be­come a re­stricted free agent at the end of this sea­son.

A Wizards source who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­lieves that Nene, as­sum­ing he is able to re­main healthy, is an up­grade over Mcgee and is a much bet­ter longterm fit with Wall.

Dur­ing his nine-year NBA ca­reer, Nene has ca­reer av­er­ages of 12.4 points per game and 7.0 re­bounds. This sea­son, he is av­er­ag­ing 13.4 points and 7.4 re­bounds.

“An op­por­tu­nity al­ways presents it­self for guys in this league,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman told re­porters shortly be­fore the Wizards played the New Or­leans Hor­nets on Thurs­day.

Wittman was un­able to dis­cuss the de­tails prior to the game, but had to come up with a game plan that did not in­clude Young or Macgee. Turiaf was still out with a bro­ken hand.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity for guys who maybe haven’t been in the ro­ta­tion be­fore, but guys are go­ing to have to step up,” Wittman said. “We’ve been in this sit­u­a­tion be­fore, whether it’s due to in­juries or trades. I’ve got con­fi­dence in the guys who are go­ing to play.”

When coach Ben Olsen trot­ted out the start­ing 11 for D.C. United’s sea­son opener Satur­day, it marked the first time his pre­ferred lineup had played to­gether out­side the prac­tice field. And it showed.

The touches seemed a bit off, and many a pass went awry. At­tempts to break down Sport­ing Kansas City’s 43-3 for­ma­tion went for naught. When the game’s first goal fi­nally came in sec­ond-half stop­page time, it was the vis­i­tors to the na­tion’s capital who claimed the tally and a 1-0 win.

“We ob­vi­ously saw some things that we need to work on,” Olsen said. “That’s one of the good parts of hav­ing a game like that. You fi­nally see the team against an­other real team in a real game, and you can start to evaluate who you are and what you need to fix.”

Many fac­tors led to United not get­ting an op­por­tu­nity to test Olsen’s firstchoice lineup be­fore then.

Sev­eral play­ers weren’t signed un­til af­ter camp had opened, and striker Hamdi Sal­ihi, the team’s new des­ig­nated player, joined his team­mates less than three weeks be­fore the opener. Goal­keeper Bill Hamid and mid­fielder Perry Kitchen spent much of the pre­sea­son on U.S. un­der-23 na­tional team duty. Even Mother Na­ture seemed at odds with United’s prepa­ra­tions, as their fi­nal tuneup, an ex­hi­bi­tion against the Colum­bus Crew in Charleston, S.C., was rained out.

As a re­sult, the sense of un­der­stand­ing among the D.C. play­ers sim­ply isn’t there yet.

“We’ve just got to get on the same page as a whole team,” mid­fielder Chris Pon­tius said. “We have to move bet­ter off the ball and cre­ate more chances.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Olsen, it’ll be a while be­fore he has a full dis­posal of play­ers to choose from. Hamid and Kitchen have re­joined the U-23 na­tional team ahead of the Olympic qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment, which will be­gin Thurs­day in Nashville, Tenn., and con­clude April 2 in Kansas City, Kan.

The loss of Hamid is a sim­ple dilemma to rem­edy, with Olsen poised to plug ca­pa­ble sec­ond-year player Joe Wil­lis be­tween the posts. But Kitchen’s ab­sence is more prob­lem­atic, as it will stunt the fledg­ling rap­port be­tween the 20-year-old, who’s ad­just­ing to his hold­ing mid­field po­si­tion af­ter play­ing in the back most of last year, and Branko Boskovic, a play­maker just re­turn­ing to ac­tion af­ter tear­ing a knee lig­a­ment in April.

That goes with­out men­tion­ing the im­pos­ing matchup looming, as Kitchen’s re­place­ment will likely mark pro­lific English star David Beck­ham (15 as­sists last sea­son) when United visit the MLS Cup cham­pion Los An­ge­les Galaxy on Sun­day.

The lead­ing can­di­dates for that task are vet­eran Marcelo Saragosa and rookie Lance Roze­boom, two play­ers the front of­fice ac­quired in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Kitchen’s in­ter­na­tional ab­sences this sea­son.

“[Kitchen] is a big part of our group and we’re go­ing to miss him, but this year we have a group of 25 play­ers,” Boskovic said. “Any mo­ment, some­body can play.”

On the other hand, the new for­ward com­bi­na­tion of Dwayne De Rosario, the reign­ing league Most Valu­able Player, and Sal­ihi will get an­other chance to de­velop Sun­day. To Sal­ihi, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore the chem­istry he sees grow­ing in train­ing ev­ery day trans­lates to United’s matches.

“I saw this team, I saw these guys ev­ery day and I know we can play much, much bet­ter,” Sal­ihi said. “We have to be more pas­sion­ate, play the ball a lit­tle bit more and go into the at­tack to cre­ate chances with a clear idea.”

NOTE: United on Thurs­day for­mally an­nounced a lease ex­ten­sion with Events DC that will keep the club at RFK Sta­dium through the 2013 sea­son. Un­der the agree­ment, ca­pac­ity will be capped at 19,647 for league matches.

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