Randy Wittman had a press conference today at 3 p.m. EST to announce, along with newly extended GM Ernie Grunfeld, that he would be returning as the Washington Wizards head coach.
All through the press conference Grunfeld spewed praises for Wittman and the job that he did with the team he had this season.
In a lockout induced season without a full training camp and playing the role of an interim head coach Wittman led the Wizards to an 18-31 record. Throughout the press conference you could hear the words growth, improvement, and together time after time as Wittman and Grunfeld spoke about their team. When asked about his comfort level in keeping Wittman as the Wizards head coach Grunfeld responded by saying
We were very comfortable with Randy. There’s a lot of familiarity, the players play very hard with him, the players improved, the players have confidence in him, he’s familiar with them, and he improved the players.
Yup. That’s right. Improvement and enjoyment. Apparently not many other candidates were considered for this job because when asked how seriously they considered any other candidates Grunfeld responded by saying that he answered that when he talked about his comfort level with Wittman. Wittman said that he had already started draft preparation with the Wizards organization so they obviously were intent on bringing him back just as the speculation had suggested.
With all of the other coaching candidates available–Sloan, Van Gundy, D’Antoni, Shaw, etc.–the Wizards chose to give Randy Wittman another chance. Is it an awful move? No its not. Was there a better one? Probably so. There were a lot of coaches that have had a lot of success and are player development guys as well. If you look at the list of names that I mentioned above, Sloan and Van Gundy should definitely stick out to you when you think of player development. Think about how raw Karl Malone was when Sloan got him and think of Dwight Howard, J.J Reddick, and Jameer Nelson when thinking about Van Gundy.
The reason why the Wizards brought back Wittman was because of familiarity and player development. While I understand wanting to keep some consistency in the organiazation I don’t think that Wittman is a guy you want to keep as a familiar face. When you keep that consistency, sometimes it doesn’t turn out for the better. Your team can get worse as it goes along; look at the Sacramento Kings. They’ve had the same faces for a while now and haven’t been relevant in the league at all.
One thing that I love about Wittman is how he holds the players accountable. There have been many instances where he’s benched key players like John Wall and Jordan Crawford for lesser options to send a message. Losing is acceptable but terrible effort is not. You can be competitive and lose a game but you can’t win without competing. I think that’s a message Wittman instilled in some of the young Wizards players and a veteran big like NeNe definitely helped later in the season.
You could see some of that response in the development of the players when they won their last eight of 10 games and won six straight to finish out the season. This gives Wizards fans a small glimmer of hope for Wittman as he goes through his third stint as a head coach. Wittman has previously been the head man of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. In those stints he went a combined 84-162.
Now at the age of 52 this may be the most promising team Wittman has ever coached and Wizards fans can only hope that the third time is the charm. Wittman has been through the league as a player and as a coach; he has seen the game from both sides and many different angles. Whether he applies what he learns to this young, impressionable team remains to be seen though. Wizards fans are hoping it works out for the better.
One piece of great news that the Wizards fans did receive from this press conference is that the team will not be moving the number three overall pick. There was speculation that if the Wizards did not win the lottery–which they didn’t obviously–they would move the number three pick. I wasn’t worried because of the strategy of building a team that the Wizards are using here. They are building with young players from the ground up. It was reiterated that the Wizards will likely pick up a key veteran in free agency this offseason, but the plan is to use the draft to become one of the best teams in the NBA.
So lets have a toast. Here’s to new heights in D.C…..maybe.