Wizards fans know all too well the pressing need not only for a talent evaluator, but for a talent developer. These needs have only grown significantly since the rebuild took place, and it seems clear that with a fresh start, and with the Gilbert Arenas era officially over with, that we find a new coach to carry us into a new era. The Wizards have 7 players with less than two years of NBA experience under their belt, and getting a coach that these young players can grow with has to be the first order of business this offseason.
Ernie Grunfeld’s extension has certainly left the door open for a Randy Wittman return. His familiarity with the team, the way the young players responded after the Nene trade, and the way the team ended the season has probably instilled some confidence in the front office. However, Ted and Ernie should look no further than Wittman’s track record in making their decision to let him go.
Randy Wittman hasn’t had a season above .400 in his six seasons as head coach or interim head coach. Prior to the firing of Flip Saunders, Wittman’s win-loss percentage steadily decreased, going from .390 his first year, to an abysmal .211. Now, while some may point to the lack of talent those teams had, the fact that he hasn’t had a taste of the postseason should be enough to convince the front office that he’s not prepared to turn this franchise around.
The team is entering a crucial year, not only for their players, but for the GM, and the owner. They have playoff aspirations, the owner has stressed the importance of player development, and the GM is only on a two-year contract. If they don’t pull the trigger on a well qualified coach there could be drastic adjustments made to the rebuild. The best player, John Wall, is coming off a year where fans saw little improvement. The fans have become more restless, and like it or not, the trade for Nene has accelerated the rebuild to the point where the team has no excuse being in the lottery for a fifth consecutive year next season.
If you poll the current players on this roster, I’m sure the overwhelming majority would vote in favor of bringing Wittman back. What’s not to like? He’s hard on you, preaches the importance of playing hard for a full 48 minutes, and stresses accountability. But aside from the motivational tactics, does he really excel in anything related to offense or defense? He’s great to have on your bench, a perfect back-up option in case something goes wrong, but is he an ideal head coach, or is he just a glorified assistant?
This current Wizards roster has been comprised of high energy players, but profoundly lack shooters along the perimeter. The team has two high usage players in Jordan Crawford and Josh Wall, and both are extremely flawed in their own right. Did Wittman do anything to mask their weaknesses? Sure the team finished in the top five in fast break points, played an up-tempo offense, but when the game slowed down, Wittman did absolutely nothing.
I’ll credit Randy for simplifying the offense, what Flip Saunders was running clearly didn’t work and occasionally we saw Wall running off screens and catching the ball in stride, but that happened maybe once or twice each quarter. As a coach, you cater to each player’s strengths. Having Wall dribble and pull up for a contested jumper is not what you look for. Doc Rivers does a great job with this; he builds his offense off what he sees in his players. Avery Bradley was drafted out of Texas by Danny Ainge because he was an elite defender by all estimations. However, Doc found ways to keep his production high in Bradley’s sophomore season by keeping him in motion, allowing him to find holes in the defense and attacking it, whether it is a weak side cut, or a spot up jumper from the corner. It’s the elaborate preparation that makes coaches great, and that’s what Wittman lacks.
There are plenty of well qualified coaches on the market this summer that Ernie Grunfeld can choose from. Many fans have their eyes set on the high profile coaches such as Nate McMillan, Mike D’Antoni, and possibly even Stan Van Gundy, but a younger coach who’s working his way up in the league may be the better option. The success of young coaches that have come from the tutelage of high profile coaches is more reason for Ernie to go this route. Erik Spoelstra was under Pat Riley; Mike Brown was under Greg Popovich; and Tom Thibodeau was under Doc Rivers and Jeff Van Gundy. Current assistant coaches such as Dave Joerger, Michael Malone, Brian Shaw, and Mike Budenholzer will all be available this summer.
I have always theorized that high profile coaches are best suited for veteran teams with championship aspirations, while younger teams are better off growing with a young coach. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, Rick Adelman did a phenomenal job in Minnesota this year prior to the devastating injury to Ricky Rubio, however I can’t help but to look at how teams have thrived under young coaches this past decade.