BOSTON – No one is happier that Randy Wittman apparently will continue as head coach of the Washington Wizards than the man whose firing opened the job for him.
Flip Saunders, who was fired in January with a 2-15 record, said that Wizards management did more than just promote his top assistant coach, who is expected to have his interim tag removed with a new contract in the next week or so. The brass also addressed some of the team’s issues once Wittman was in place, not that those were secrets prior to Saunders’ dismissal.
“Where I feel good is, there were a lot of things that I thought had to be done with that team when I was there,” said Saunders, who has been working as a consultant for Boston’s Doc Rivers during the playoffs. “When Randy first took over, they didn’t have great success until they did what they needed to do with some of the guys and changed the roster. And they got better.”
For example, a young but immature nucleus of JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche was broken up for Wittman – the first two traded, the third shut down when he ballooned out of shape – even though Saunders said he raised that red flag last season. Washington also acquired center Nene from Denver, who only played 11 games with his new team but gave it an inside presence and a veteran who could command attention off the court. Adding solid role players James Singleton and Cartier Martin helped too, Saunders said.
“I knew what needed to be done,” said Saunders, who went 51-130 in Washington after leading Detroit and Minnesota to 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons. “Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to see it through. But Randy’s my guy. And the staff there are guys basically that I hired. So I feel good about that too.”
Actually, Saunders made Wittman (18-31 as interim) look good by comparison beyond the W-L mark: He’s more affordable, too, on what might be a one-year deal with a team option. Saunders had been hired in 2009 on four-year, $18 million deal when the Wizards’ goals were loftier. But that was before the Gilbert Arenas guns-in-the-locker-room incident put Washington into scramble mode.
Point guard John Wall, the No. 1 draft pick in 2010, has shown promise without much development in his second season, and Washington’s failure to move up to No. 1 in this year’s draft probably will keep its profile lower again in 2012-13. That probably affected the Wizards’ appetite and budget for head coaches, Michael Lee of the Washington Post wrote:
Wittman is expected to be retained at a price much less than proven available coaches Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan likely would’ve commanded – and two sources added that the team was not very high on Mike D’Antoni because they didn’t believe the former New York and Phoenix coach would demand enough discipline.
The Wizards were also burned the last two times they made a huge investment in a big-name coach. … Eddie Jordan had led the Wizards to the playoffs four consecutive years but was also fired nearly four months after he signed an extension with the team in 2008.
There is an added bonus for Saunders with Wittman’s retention: His son Ryan still is a Wizards assistant, which means he won’t be boomeranging back to live with the folks while seeking a new job.