Reports: Wizards fire Wittman

NBA.com staff reports

The Washington Wizards missed the playoffs this season, a letdown after last season’s 46-36 campaign that saw the Wizards reach the Eastern Conference semifinals. That work Washington put in — and its results since part of the way through 2011-12 — was done under the watch of coach Randy Wittman.

But after last night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, Wittman was let go as coach. The Associated Press, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo all reported the news shortly after last night’s game, which is when Wittman found out he was fired.

Here’s the AP on the move:

With a seemingly half-hearted showing against a bunch of backups, the Hawks lost 109-98 to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night and wound up seeded No. 4.

After the game, Wizards coach Randy Wittman was told he would not return next season, according to a person familiar with the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the move has not been announced by the team.

After the game, Wittman offered a defense of the job he’s done.

“I love this job. I’m going to come to work until they tell me I can’t. I’m proud of what we’ve done here. I took over 4 1/2 years ago, and this was a sideshow,” Wittman said. “And we slowly changed the culture of this team. And we had a slip-up this year.”

About an hour later, Wittman was overheard saying his goodbyes to a team employee.

Here’s Stein’s report on ESPN.com about why the Wizards parted ways with Wittman and who might be next to take the job:

NBA coaching sources tell ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scotty Brooks is widely regarded as the Wizards’ preferred choice to replace Wittman, at least partly to assist with Washington’s long-held plan to chase D.C. native Kevin Durant in free agency.

Next season was to be the final year of Wittman’s three-year contract, which paid him more than $3 million per season but was not fully guaranteed.

Wittman took the team to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons since taking over for the late Flip Saunders in January 2012, but the team’s 41-41 finish this season was far below what prognisticators expected for the team this season.

Last season, the Wizards went 46-36 and were seeded fifth in the East for the playoffs. They knocked off the Toronto Raptors in the first round, then bowed out in six games against Atlanta after Wall broke bones in his left hand and wrist in Game 1.

After having success using Paul Pierce as a stretch-4 during those playoffs, the Wizards tried to install a full-fledged pace-and-space system this season, although they did it without Pierce, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent.

The strategy never fully worked. Washington’s defensive play, the foundation of the success Wittman did have with the team, took a major step back this season, and injuries up and down the roster didn’t help matters.

And here’s Castillo’s report on the outlook in D.C. as well:

The team is expected to call a Thursday afternoon press conference to formally announce the move.

Grunfeld, who retooled the roster last offseason with this summer’s salary cap space in mind, is under contract for at least next season. He is expected to return for his 14th campaign in his position. If he does, he’ll oversee his fifth coach during his tenure and, barring an extension, will likely not have his contract aligned with the new coach. Potential candidates to replace Wittman include Scott Brooks and Jeff Hornacek.

Over the next three seasons, Wittman successfully shepherded the team by getting players to consistently commit on the defensive end. Improvement followed. The Wizards jumped from 20-46 to 29-63 to 44-38 to 46-36, snapping a five-year postseason drought along the way.

The organization envisioned taking the next step this season, with stated goals of a top-four seed and its first 50-win season since 1979. The franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth in 37 years was also among the aspirations, a goal that seemed in sight last season until star John Wall fractured his hand during the Eastern Conference semifinals, which the Wizards lost in six games to the Hawks.

Wittman, a defensive-minded coach, installed an uptempo playing style that focused on spacing the floor, shooting more three pointers, and scoring in transition after the team’s success with a similar look during the playoffs last season– all while the front office prioritized salary cap space for this offseason. The defensive identity cultivated in previous seasons vanished until the all-star break before the Wizards turned it around and ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency  in 31 games after the respite.

Overall, Washington’s defense allowed 3.8 more points per 100 possessions than last season and went from second in opponents’ field-goal percentage to 24th entering Wednesday’s finale. Meanwhile, the Wizards’ offensive efficiency climbed just 1.2 points.

“It’s a decision that I made,” Wittman said of the philosophical shift. “That was my choice.”

Players said defense was not prioritized in training camp like in the past with the move to the pace-and-space offense, but the reasons for the woes extended far beyond that. The conditioning necessary for the system was a problem across the roster, including for Wall, who reported to camp heavier than usual and had a dismal November. Early injuries complicated cohesiveness. But, most prominently, effort, discipline, and accountability – the three tenets of Wittman’s tenure that masked the team’s previous offensive shortcomings — were inconsistent.

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