WASHINGTON -- In the moments before Thomas Bryant checked into Wednesday's game to make his season debut and his return from a year-long recovery due to ACL surgery, there were two visual cues for fans in the stadium that preceded his name being announced by public address announcer Mark Fratto.
For one, Bryant's warm-ups were off as the Wizards came out of their huddle to begin the second quarter. There was also his teammate, Daniel Gafford, who was doing an emphatic raise-the-roof celebration with a big smile on his face. While Bryant has so often played the role of hype man on the Wizards' bench over the last calendar year, Gafford was doing Bryant's signature move to return the favor.
"To see him finally out on the floor, it’s really exciting," Gafford said of that moment. "To see someone go through the process of being injured and having that long road of recovery getting back out there and just seeing that, it always brings a smile to my face because they’re coming back to something that they love."
Gafford had not previously shared the floor with Bryant as a teammate. Bryant suffered a partially torn ACL on Jan. 9 of last season, while Gafford was acquired at the trade deadline in March. The Wizards were in the market for a center in part because Bryant got hurt.
It took Bryant 368 days before he returned to the court and Gafford saw much of that recovery up close as they trained in the Wizards' facility. Now they will both be part of the Wizards' rotation moving forward and, as players at the same position, could end up competing for minutes. The Wizards also have Montrezl Harrell at center and unless head coach Wes Unseld Jr. can find ways to play combinations of them together, only one will likely be on the floor at any given time.
Gafford, though, said supporting his teammate takes precedent over his own self-interest.
"Nothing can beat being a good teammate. At the end of the day, positive energy throughout the team is the best thing we can possibly have on the floor. It’s going to help us on the bench, it’s going to help us coming into the game, it’s going to help the crowd, too," Gafford said.
"Seeing a lot of negative energy on the sideline is one thing that can really put anything in motion of going downhill. That’s one thing that I’ve never wanted. I always make sure I never bring any negative energy to the sidelines, so I just try to stay as positive as I can throughout the stretch of the game."
The Wizards should be able to count center as a strength with three guys who do different things. Gafford is the starter and their best shot-blocker. Harrell brings energy and efficient scoring off the bench. Bryant does those things while also adding outside shooting.
Gafford is happy to have him back, even if Bryant caused some inconvenience for him on the night of his debut.
"He parked in front of me in the parking garage, so I had to wait for him to leave, but we’re not going to talk about that," he joked.