The Wizards came up empty in their efforts to build on the past two season’s playoff runs and head coach Randy Wittman paid the price. He was fired Wednesday night, hours after the 41-41 campaign came to a close. It was a season where the Wizards fell short of raised expectations that they could be a contender in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
“There were high internal and external expectations for this team coming into this season based on the momentum we had generated over the previous two years,” said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld in a press release. “Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the team’s performance and effort, particularly on our home court, did not allow us to meet those expectations and we decided a coaching change was needed.”
Being an NBA coach is a tough business and certainly Wittman is not the only reason the Wizards came up short this season. Everyone on the roster needs to do some soul searching. There were less-than-professional efforts on too many occasions, especially when it came to defense.
I understand some players disagreed with Wittman’s defensive tactics, but that is a huge cop out. Much of defense is about effort, and the Wizards didn’t have enough of it on a nightly basis. There’s no question that injuries had their impact, too. And so did keeping salary cap flexibility with numerous contracts expiring, while still expecting guys to play their roles.
Maybe a better coach could have reached the players to get them to buy in. Wittman often admitted players weren’t listening, which was a telling sign that things would likely come to an end if they didn’t turn it around.
The Wizards had to make a change, heading into what may be the most important off-season in franchise history. It is certainly the most important off season of Ted Leonsis ownership. He has been on board with the “KD2DC” plan, and in a few months we will find out if the plan was a success or another #SoWizards moment.
Also, for now – despite fan and media outcry – embattled general manager Ernie Grunfeld isn’t going anywhere. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering he was given the green light to trade for Markief Morris before the NBA trade deadline. He has also been steering the KD2DC campaign for several seasons now. He needs a big off-season and an even bigger regular season in 2016-17.
So who’s on the Wizards radar? Former OKC Coach Scott Brooks, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, and current 76ers assistant Mike D’Antoni (7-seconds or less fame). Also worth keeping an eye on: Clippers assistant Sam Cassell and Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing. However, the feeling is the Wizards will likely hire someone with previous head coaching experience.
According to multiple reports, Kevin Durant’s former coach Scott Brooks is high on the list. I know this seems way too “KD or bust,” but Brooks has a reputation on being a good teacher with a positive, patient approach toward younger players. This might serve Kelly Oubre well next.
Critics cite Brooks’ lack of offensive imagination in Oklahoma City. However, many players, including the team’s biggest stars, Durant and Russell Westbrook, seemed to have his back. Brooks was Coach of the Year in 2009-10 and had a 338-207 record in OKC with one finals appearance. He also had 4 seasons of 50-plus wins, including one with 59 and another with 60.
Hiring him doesn’t guarantee Durant comes to DC this off-season, so you’d better like Brooks as the best candidate if you hire him. Other names include former Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau. He would get his team to play defense, but he also has a reputation of grinding players into the ground. Former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Mike D’Antoni have also been mentioned as candidates.
No matter who the Wizards hire, they need to clean up things in their own house. There is talent on the roster with Wall, Morris, Marcin Gortat, Oubre, Otto Porter, and Bradley Beal most likely coming back. It is not a total rebuild by any means. It is more of a “retool” situation. But the players need to come back hungrier, and motivated to right the ship next season.