Just days before news broke that Wizards starting center Thomas Bryant had suffered a season-ending ACL injury, head coach Scott Brooks shared a conversation he had with the 23-year-old following the team's trade for Russell Westbrook in December. Brooks told Bryant he was going to have the best year of his career.
On Monday, ahead of the Wizards' game against the Suns, Brooks reacted to Bryant's injury, a cruel twist of fate that has left Brooks sad about what could have been.
"Tough day. It was a punch in the gut. It’s tough for him. We love, we love Thomas Bryant. I love his story, I love his toughness, I love his journey. It’s definitely difficult. I spoke to him a couple of times yesterday. He’s pretty bummed out for obvious reasons. He loves the game, he loves to play and he loves the way he has improved," Brooks said.
He went on to add: "He was about to have a breakout year. It’s unfortunate. He definitely will be missed."
The early returns on Bryant's 2020-21 season were good. He was averaging career-highs in points (14.3), field goal percentage (64.8) and three-point percentage (42.9). His points were third on the team only behind Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.
Now the Wizards have to move forward with Bryant out of the picture until next season. Brooks has promoted veteran Robin Lopez to the starting lineup, but the rotation will be flexible.
"It’s going to definitely be by committee," Brooks said.
Brooks also mentioned backup center Moe Wagner, as well as starting power forward Rui Hachimura as options at the five. Hachimura would play there in small-ball sets. The Wizards also have a fourth center on the roster in Anzejs Pasecniks.
For Wagner, Brooks described the newfound opening at center as a "golden opportunity." Wagner had been bounced from the rotation this season and the final year of his rookie-scale contract was not picked up by the Wizards.
Wagner has only played in four of the Wizards' 10 games so far this season with averages of 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds. But now he will take on much more responsibility, barring an unforeseen move by the front office to add help.
"Sometimes in adversity, something pops up that you didn’t expect to happen," Brooks said.
The irony there is Bryant originally emerged for the Wizards when Dwight Howard got hurt early in the 2018-19 season. There is a similar opportunity now waiting for someone to take advantage.
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