The Washington Wizards are in the very early stages of a long rebuild. After decades of mediocrity, the new front office led by Michael Winger and Will Dawkins finally decided to start over and build from ground zero. That is a win in itself. So, the Wizards' 3-16 start to the season should perhaps be seen as a painful but necessary part of the process. However, worrying signs about the team's performance raise significant questions about Wes Unseld Jr and whether he is the right coach for the future.
Everything coming out of the front office suggests that they have complete faith in Unseld Jr. They already picked up his team option for the 2024-25 season. This doesn't mean, however, that Unseld Jr can't be fired if the team's performance doesn't improve for the rest of the season. For an organization that doesn't prioritize winning in the present, how does one know when the right time to fire a head coach is?
The main thing to consider here is whether what the coach is doing today is negatively impacting the future of the franchise, especially in terms of player development and building the right culture. Unseld Jr's track record so far hasn't been stellar on either front.
The Wizards defense has been embarrassing all season
The Washington Wizards don't play any defense. They don't communicate well, the effort level is poor, and intensity is lacking. They have the worst defensive rating in the league by a mile, as they allow an embarrassing 123.1 points per 100 possessions.
This team doesn't have good defensive personnel. No one was expecting them to be defensive stoppers, but the fact that the team isn't trying to make up for the lack of defensive talent with effort and discipline is a very bad sign for the coaching staff.
Plus, Unseld Jr's rotation choices contribute immensely to this lack of defensive intensity. The Tyus Jones-Jordan Poole backcourt provides zero resistance out on the perimeter, and closing games with them has proven to be a terrible idea. Sitting one of your best defensive players in Deni Avdija at the end of close games, or playing without your only rim-protecting center Daniel Gafford in the clutch are some examples of Unseld Jr's head-scratching decisions.
One of the primary culprits for this lack of intensity has been Jordan Poole. The coaching staff doesn't seem to have Poole's buy-in as the 24-year-old guard hasn't shown any maturity or leadership so far. If a head coach can't resonate with the supposed team leaders, that sets a bad tone for the rest of the team.
Unseld Jr's player development track record has been subpar
One of Unseld Jr's calling cards was supposed to be player development. Wizards fans haven't seen that aspect of his coaching so far, either. Avdija is showing significant offensive improvement this season but is rewarded by getting benched in the fourth quarters. Johnny Davis has regressed while Daniel Gafford and Corey Kispert have plateaued. Bilal Coulibaly getting consistent minutes is a positive, but how he develops under this regime remains to be seen.
Losing games is fine, but losing it in a deflating manner in which the team isn't even playing competitive basketball in the fourth quarters is not. Giving up driving lanes to the opposing offense every possession is not how you develop players. There needs to be more accountability, and Unseld Jr has failed to install that in his tenure of the past 2.5 seasons.
The overall team effort, especially on the defensive end, has to improve throughout the season. Poole has to show more leadership. Young players have to show development. There needs to be more accountability. Unless we see clear signs of these in the next month or two, it's time for a coaching change. The Wizards can't afford to stifle the development of their young players this early in the rebuild. If Unseld Jr can't prove he is the coach of the future for this franchise in the upcoming months, it's better to pull the plug mid-season and find a new coach sooner rather than later.