Sporadic random NBA fans shouting out cat-calls and asking for a coach's dismissal is nothing new. Any time an arena quiets down for a spell you're bound to hear some wiseacre ("wiseacre," I say!) telling someone of authority that he's a bum, and too often for any team outside of the playoff picture that vitriol is directed at a member of the coaching fraternity.
So for Washington Wizards fans to be calling for the firing of Randy Wittman this early in the season, yeah, we get it. He was an underwhelming hire as both lead assistant for former coach Flip Saunders' staff, an underwhelming choice as an interim coach, and an underwhelming hire as full time head coach.
With the Wizards stuck as the NBA's only winless team heading into Monday night, following the white hot Detroit Pistons' two wins in three games, the calls are taking on an even greater urgency. The Wizards are currently employing the league's worst offense, and it's hard to see the return of John Wall and Nene (who led the NBA in underwhelming in 2011-12) doing a whole lot to offset a roster that was honestly designed to create a playoff contender out of what was once a laughingstock.
The Wizards are still a laughingstock. Only now, they're a laughingstock that doesn't provide sites like this with endless sources of obvious comedic material. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Along with the boos during Saturday night's loss came chants of "Fire Wittman!" One disgruntled fan stood and shouted as the game ended, "[owner] Ted [Leonsis], we deserve better!"
The lone ray of hope is anticipating the return of John Wall and Nene, both of whom don't have a timetable for return. Nene participated in his first practice Friday, but he is still likely to be weeks away from returning. As fans point out, not too many teams would be off to a good start with their two best players sidelined with injuries, but Wittman isn't buying it.
"That's an excuse," he said. "We've got enough here to win games, and we've got to believe that. I've got to help them believe in themselves. We're low on confidence right now."
Take it from someone who sat through it — Washington's loss to Utah involved some of the most unappetizing basketball imaginable, with Wittman going to curiously small lineups down the stretch as the Utah bigs pounded the Wizards on the glass. Worse, somehow, was the fact that Wittman didn't seem to have any answers (both in terms of on-court personnel, or play-calling) as the Wizards managed just 13 points in the fourth quarter.
And what's strangest, to this observer at least, is the fact that after a slow start (and by "slow," we mean, "holy lord, this is not working") the veterans that GM Ernie Grunfeld brought in over the summer are actually playing up to expectation.
Even with the small sample size and terrible beginnings, both Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza are more or less giving Washington what they've given a few other teams over the last few years. Admittedly — that ain't much to crow about, and it's shocking that ownership continues to retain Grunfeld and give him chance after chance to rebuild on the fly, but most of these Wizards are playing up to their own personal par.
What's weird is, after eight tries, the team still couldn't have pulled a win or two out of all that. Yes, the 'Zards still feature a league-worst offense; but the defense is above average and teams featuring a reversal of those two stats (so-so offense, awful D) still manage to have that coin flip their way every so often.
New'ish Wizard Shawn Livingston, in talking with Times' beat reporter Carla Peay, remained optimistic:
"We're still in it, in the East especially," Livingston said. "We're not totally out of it."
Love you, Shaun, but you're out of it. Your team, more specifically, is out of it.
There are still 74 games to go in this season, and the Wizards can start it all over again as they go up against the similarly-disappointing Indiana Pacers on Monday night. On top of that, the benchmark to slide into the lowest spot in the Eastern bracket — a .500 record — remains in place some three weeks into the season with Chicago holding the eighth seed with a 5-5 record. Still, the Wizards have two more weeks until Wall returns and probably twice as long until he's back at full strength, and based on John's 2011-12 performance this isn't really the most calming news around.
And Nene? Take it from a plantar fasciitis sufferer — if you're not over or at least relatively recovered from that condition after an offseason away from the grind, then it's probably going to be a rough year. Especially for a big man Nene's size.
And for the Wizards. Hitting for a 43-39 record and making the playoffs calls for a severe turnaround, something to the tune of a 43-31 finish; and though it's been done before these things just don't happen every year. Not with that roster, lacking in promise and potential. Perhaps not with that coach. Probably not with that GM. This is us, honestly, being very nice.
Too early to write the league's only winless team off? I'd say so. This group wasn't designed to bide their time, they were created to go all in for a playoff berth and create some springtime enthusiasm from the fan base in ways that didn't surround May's draft lottery. Hard to imagine that turnaround taking place in 2012-13, for Washington.