The Washington Wizards stuck with coach Randy Wittman after he turned in an underwhelming performance upon replacing former coach Flip Saunders during the 2011-12 season. They stuck with him as a full time head coach, Ernie Grunfeld’s ostensible last chance hire, even after the Wizards got out to miserable 0-12 and 4-28 starts to the 2012-13 season. And, to hear the team’s front office and players tell it, they’re still sticking with the guy in spite of a disappointing 2-7 start to 2013-14, a start that could have Washington’s already slim playoff hopes in danger.
The team is mindful of Wittman’s work to end last season, a 50-game run that saw the Wizards take half of the possible contests while dreaming of a possible postseason spot based on that 50-game .500 run. Anonymous sources speaking to both the Washington Post and USA Today claim that Wittman’s job is not in danger, while his frustrated young players are doing the talking on his behalf.
“That’s one thing I don’t like. At the end of the day, we’re the ones playing. You can’t throw that on coach,” Bradley Beal said of Wittman. “I mean, he’s making the strategy, he’s making subs, and it’s up to us to go out there and execute, play and have fun. I really dislike and hate when people throw all the scrutiny on coach, because he doesn’t deserve it. I mean, he’s doing his best job and it’s up to us be able to carry some of the weight and take some responsibility as well.”
“Everybody believes in Coach Witt,” [John] Wall said. “We understand what he did last year and what he was capable of when everybody is healthy. So we know what he tells us as coach, what his schemes is and what he tells us players works, but us players have to go out there and execute what he’s given us as our game plan and what he wants us to be as a team and we haven’t been doing that so far. We’ve only proved it in two” games.
Mindful of the malaise, and that they could get a coach they appear to very much like fired, the Wizards organized a players-only meeting on Tuesday to hash things up and try to straighten some of those slumped shoulders. Though no specifics were relayed to the media about the content of the meeting, it’s obvious that the team is trying to do something about its dour tone.
“We try to put everything together. All the leaders came together and now we try to find a way to win,” Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin said. “Everybody speak up, John [Wall]. That was a good thing for us. My first year, we never had this. We was losing all the time, by 30, 20, and nobody tried to fix it. But this year, we can see, we have some leaders on the team.”
That is good, because as we discussed in our piece about the Cleveland Cavaliers recently, it is hard to flip the switch and become a locker room dagger thrower when the instinct doesn’t come naturally.
The issue here is that the Wizards have been wildly inconsistent this season, losing much of its defensive edge to start the campaign while firing blanks at all the wrong times in other spots. Wall has been brutal from the field, shooting 36 percent, and while Bradley Beal is putting up over 20 points per game, he’s not going about it at the most efficient rate. The schedule hasn’t helped either, with the Wizards starting off with six of their first eight games on the road, and rookie forward Otto Porter still on the shelf with a right hip flexor. Ernie Grunfeld’s roster was already thin to begin with, but injuries to Porter and free agent pickup Al Harrington have put extra pressure on the Wizards that are left.
Wittman, to his credit, swears that rumors about his job are “not a worry of mine,” which is admirable, and the players clearly have his back. Grunfeld appears to as well, but it wouldn’t be the strangest NBA thing if Grunfeld fired Wittman in a desperation move in one last attempt at driving this team into the playoffs. The Wizards’ GM is on the last year of his contract, and owner Ted Leonsis basically came down with an edict from on high that his well-compensated club (just barely missing the luxury tax) has to generate some postseason revenue this season.
That’s easier said than done, because for all these lottery picks and expectations, this is still not that great or even good of a team. Yes, we’ve 73 games to go and the players are saying the right things, but that won’t mean a thing if the team can’t execute in the late stages of games, or if it costs the owner millions, and the coach and GM their job.
So, the players know it’s on them, and Wittman thinks that his job is safe. Kind of running out of excuses, here.
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