Bryant's emotions ran high in long-awaited return to Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Thomas Bryant tried his best not to smile.
The fifth-year pro checked into the game at the start of the second quarter and jogged down the floor before he heard the in-house arena announcer officially welcome Bryant back to the floor at Capital One Arena.
It was Bryant’s first game since Jan. 9, 2021, when he suffered a partially torn left ACL. He spent the summer and first half of the Wizards’ regular season rehabbing, but was finally able to return to the floor in Wednesday’s win 112-106 win over the Magic.
But when he heard the crowd cheer his name after the announcement, he couldn’t stop himself.
“I couldn’t help but smile because it’s been so long, just to be able to hear that again, it brings back memories and also has me prepared to make new ones,” Bryant said.
He played the least of any Wizard on the team that saw game action (11:30), but scored six points and had a rebound. His first basket was a wide-open corner 3-pointer that he didn’t intend on taking until he realized he had the shot in front of him.
It was a day he’d waited for all year, one that he couldn’t wait to finally get underway.
“My emotions were out of pocket,” Bryant said of the lead-in to the game. “I was just trying to stay real calm and collected throughout the whole day, just all the way up to the game.”
With Bryant in the lineup, the Wizards will have a few tough decisions to make on who gets what minutes, and when, as they’ve got the deepest team they’ve had all season with Rui Hachimura in the fold now as well.
“I kind of knew what he was going to bring to the table,” Montrezl Harrell said. “It was just good to see him get back out there and get back to being on the court. Going through a situation how he went through, I know it kind of just basically killed him to not be able to play and having to keep building himself back up to get to today.”
In his first game under his new coach Wes Unseld Jr., though, Bryant impressed.
“He looked good,” Unseld said. “I know it’s tough when your minutes are somewhat segmented, so you don’t get that long stretch, but just to have him out there in a live game, getting a feel for it, getting back to that rhythm, I think it’s good for him and I’d like to see both him and Rui get more of it as we go. I was pleased with how he performed and where he is right now.”
As for what the lineup and rotations could look like moving forward, that remains unknown. Even for Unseld, he hasn’t seen much of what Bryant can bring to the floor since there hasn’t been much to see.
“We’ve had 40-plus games with a core group of players, so we’ve added to some of the offensive package, we’ve tweaked some things and added different wrinkles because we see now what best serves them,” Unseld said. “To just kind of plug those guys (Hachimura and Bryant) with what we have, it would have to stay somewhat limited.”
He then added that, over time, it’ll quickly get easier as they learn the strengths of various lineups and individual players throughout game action.
But the biggest concern was getting Bryant back on the floor, and that was something he’s had to stay patient with for more than a year. Now, he doesn’t have to be patient any longer.
“It’s tough being away from something that you love so much,” Bryant said. “You almost have a newfound appreciation and a whole newfound love for the game of basketball when you get back. When you’re able to do what you love, you cherish it even more now.”