It is fair to point out that the Washington Wizards are going to pass on spending significant money this offseason to upgrade their roster, even if the team might have significant cap room after dumping Rashard Lewis' partially guaranteed contract, and using the amnesty clause on disappointing big man Andray Blatche. After years of payrolls that numbered amongst the league's highest were met with a four-year playoff drought, it's only understandable. It's also fair to point out that no coach, even if this team did decide to make a splash in the free-agent market, would be delivering a winner to Washington anytime soon.
It's also fair to consider Randy Wittman, former head placeholder in Cleveland and Minnesota, as yet another placeholder in Washington. And to wonder if the Wizards are going the uncreative route with their new full-time coach, whose ascension was made official on Monday, as they bunker down for a proper rebuilding project that could possibly see a new GM (Ernie Grunfeld's contract runs out next summer), and new coach (Wittman's new deal only lasts until 2014) by the time the team has everything sorted out.
Until then, it's best not to get up in arms about the Wittman stagnation, I suppose. He is to be credited for doing what he was supposed to do upon taking over the team, benching JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Blatche for their careless play, and keeping a young group enthused enough to actually reel off a six-game winning stream to end a miserable 2011-12. Working without the benefit of a training camp, with a major midseason deal to work around alongside the ongoing Blatche Opera, Wittman did well to win 18 of 49 games with this group. Even if long-suffering Wizards fans don't want to hear that the equivalent of a 31-win season is doing "well" in any regard.
Wizards fans will continue to pay for the sins that dotted this team's run between the summer of 2008 and last March's trade deadline. Washington, with Grunfeld calling the shots along the way, made a series of win-now moves (though, on Grunfeld's behalf, it should be noted that late Wizards owner Abe Pollin encouraged him to attain and re-sign veterans in the face of yet another rebuilding project) that just extended the inevitable. The full-time hiring of Wittman just underscores the fact that this hole is going to take a long time to expertly dig out of.
Even when Washington's good luck (moving way ahead in the lottery to select John Wall with the top pick in the 2010 draft) took an uptick, Grunfeld compounded things by surrounding Wall with great party planners but poor role models in Blatche et al. Players that can have a role as the designated batty guy on a pretty good team, but also players that can't stack up in big numbers on a team featuring hopeful franchise cornerstones in Wall and yet another jumpy forward attempting to get by on more than athleticism in Jan Vesely.
Last March's trade season — sending Young and McGee away while getting older (in the form of solid pivotman Nene) in return changed all this, but the scars still show. Nene is a veteran, and he won't be around whenever the Wizards turn around. Lewis' contract is the result of having given Gilbert Arenas all that money in a 2008 contract extension. Securing so little for Young and McGee's potential (taking on more money as a result, in Nene's deal) only shows that their value was at an all-time low at the trade deadline. And having to give up on Blatche completely, eating his contract along the way, is a fitting end to a relationship the Wizards long ago should have realized was not going to work out.
In the place of all that? A slow pace. Washington gets a holdover, to lose for a few years while the team slowly rebuilds and licks its payroll wounds, while it plays out the string. All while hoping Wall (who is reported to have a good relationship with Wittman) sees enough to put pen to paper with Washington when he's eligible to sign a contract extension next summer.
Man, this was a cold water column.
As is usually the case with cold water columns, we hope we're incorrect. We hope that Wittman, after struggling in his time with the Cavaliers and Timberwolves (where he famously finished the 2006-07 season with a 12-30 record after Dwane Casey was fired following a 20-20 start) has enough under him to make something special out of this (still, whether Blatche returns or not) pell-mell team. That the group hits a home run with the third pick in the draft. That they could take advantage of that cap space (if not payroll relief) to swing a deal to aid in the myriad rotation holes. That Nene, stud that he can be, has one last All-Star level season while leading this group of youngsters.
We're just guessing -- while looking at this roster and the obstacles ahead of, mindful of the past that created it — that things don't move as quickly. So it goes, when you dig that hole.