Posts Tagged ‘Randy Wittman’

Tide Changing On Wizards’ Wall



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Poll anyone about Washington Wizards point guard John Wall these days and you are guaranteed to get more pro-Wall reaction than not. Had you polled those same people 10 months ago, the reaction would have been upside down.

Injury and uneven play led many to wonder if the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft was destined for anything more than solid numbers (17 points, 8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals through his first three seasons) on lousy Wizards teams.

Attitudes and perceptions about Wall have changed dramatically in the past five months. He’s no longer dangling in talented young star purgatory, that no-man’s land for players working through their rookie contract without anyone knowing exactly how to project where said player might be headed next (see Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks).

Wall’s career could be headed in a much different direction now that the Wizards and Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, have reportedly begun discussions about an extension of his rookie deal. The sides have until Oct. 30 to agree on a deal and what Wall is worth, to speak in crude terms, is yet to be determined (interested observers are already taking sides in D.C.)

But there is a strong body of evidence that suggests the price will be high, and perhaps rightfully so for a mercurial talent who is just now realizing his potential.

The first 33 games of last season, in which the Wizards went 5-28 while Wall recovered from a knee injury, gave everyone a glimpse of what life might be like without the prized point guard around. The Wizards were a lost cause in his absence, devoid of any star power or direction at the most critical position on the floor.

The 49 games Wall played in after returning from that injury were a revelation. The Wizards went 24-19 before dropping their final six games of the season. And Wall was a virtual showstopper most nights, averaging 18.5 ppg, 7.6 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 spg while impacting the game on both ends of the floor in ways we hadn’t seen from him thus far.

With fellow young talents Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter Jr., as well as a seasoned cast of veterans surrounding them, the Wizards are poised to finally make a break from their lottery ways and move into the playoff pack in the East. But they only make that move with a healthy, motivated and secure Wall leading the charge.

He’s become the linchpin to the Wizards’ future, just as you would expect a former No. 1 overall pick to do be at this stage of his career. That said, Wall is not the sure thing that say Derrick Rose was when he was three years into his ascent in Chicago. And if there is anything hanging over Wall at this point, it’s whether he’s ready to serve as team leader both on and off the court.

If you are Wizards’ boss Ernie Grunfeld, you’re betting that he is ready. You are betting that the show Wall put on in his last 49 games was just the beginning. You are betting that the Wall, who showed up for that courtside interview with NBA TV during the Las Vegas Summer League, is prepared for a truly breakout season.

Grunfeld’s future could very well depend on all of that being the case, on Wall joining that party-crashing group of young point guards led by Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving. That group is are ready to muscle their way into the elite group led by Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others.

The talent is there for the youngsters. None of the guys already on the elite points guard list is more physically imposing than the 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound Wall. Sure, others are much more polished, skilled and certainly more seasoned. But as far as raw growth potential and skill, Irving and Wall head that list.

Wall is aiming for the top of that elite list, of course, which is exactly what you want from a player in his position at this stage of the game!

Projecting The East Playoff Order





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’re still two days away from the NBA’s moratorium on free-agent signings and trades being lifted. So, Dwight Howard isn’t officially a Houston Rocket and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce aren’t officially Brooklyn Nets until Wednesday.

None of what we’ve seen shake out over the past seven days can become official until then.

But that doesn’t mean the business of basketball isn’t going on. From summer leagues to free-agent deals being agreed upon and trade opportunities still being explored, the ball never stops bouncing.

That’s why we’re skipping ahead to training camp and the 2013-14 season here at the hideout and forecasting — fearlessly, mind you — to April 2014 and who we believe will shake loose from the pack and be the cream of the playoff crop in the Eastern Conference (the Western Conference list will drop Tuesday morning).

We’ve got the usual suspects and a surprise or two as well, listed in projected order of finish:

MIAMI HEAT

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The last time we saw the Heat, they were popping bottles in the locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena after winning their second straight Larry O’Brien trophy. Apparently Larry really does love Miami. They are the only franchise in the league capable of sitting out both the Draft and free agency and maintaining their position atop both the Eastern Conference and the league. Ray Allen sticking around for another year is certainly a good thing. But the most important thing for the Heat to accomplish during this offseason is to make sure LeBron James gets as much rest as possible, Dwyane Wade takes care of his knees and Chris Bosh brushes off all of the criticism he took last season and comes back ready to redeem himself for that pedestrian playoff performance. No one has done anything to put the Heat’s hold on the league in jeopardy. Team boss Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will sort out the rotation and add and subtract the periphery pieces necessary to ensure the Heat start the season where they’ve finished each of the last two … on top!

INDIANA PACERS

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Larry Bird couldn’t stay away, not with the team he built so close to achieving the ultimate goal of bringing a championship to his basketball-made home state. Bird’s first order of business was to make sure Pacers’ locker room and emotional leader David West didn’t get away in free agency. West, Paul George and Roy Hibbert comprise one of the best inside-out trios in the league. Add in a healthy Danny Granger for the 2013-14 season, and the Pacers have every reason to believe that they will finally catch a Heat team that might be worn down from the grind of three straight Finals trips. Adding role players like C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland gives the Pacers an edge and shooting stroke in the backcourt and frontcourt they didn’t get from D.J. Augustin and Tyler Hansbrough. Whatever changes were made, the Pacers’ title hopes rest on what point guard George Hill and Granger (and, to a lesser extent, Lance Stephenson) can give them now that George has taken over as the All-Star face of the franchise. Anyone expecting him to take a backseat to a healthy Granger (or anyone else) is dreaming. George’s coming out party lasted the entire 2012-13 season, culminating in an eye-opening performance against James (in particular) and the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Expect it to keep going for years to come.

CHICAGO BULLS

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What looked like a lost season to some in Chicago was more of a revelation of what the Bulls are working with sans their best player, Derrick Rose. His absence from the court (well, for anything but the practices he was rumored to dominate) shined a light on a supporting cast that is far tougher than they’ve been given credit for in recent years. All-Star Joakim Noah‘s playoff effort, while battling injury himself, should not be overlooked. He’s moved up our list of quality big men, well into the top five and perhaps the top three. Having smoothed out the rough edges offensively, Noah became a two-way force to be reckoned with and an ideal inside counterpart for Rose. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng (who needs to get healthy this summer as well) provide the sort of veteran leadership teams overspend for every summer. But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has shown us that no matter what the parts look like, he will put a team on the floor capable of grinding with anyone in the league. What he’ll have in a ticked off Rose, who will carry all of the foul things said about him last season with him to the court every night, is a game changer that no other team in the East can match. No draftee or free-agent pick up this summer is better than adding the former MVP back to your mix.

BROOKLYN NETS

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The Nets have the stars lined up. From rookie coach Jason Kidd to a starting five — of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez — that looks as good or better than any starting five in basketball, at least on paper. Translating all of this from paper to the floor is where the Nets will run into the same issues that have plagued other franchises that have tried to fast track their way to a championship (the 2007-08 Celtics are the last team that rode the wave from summer construction to championship parade the next summer). The irony of this whole thing? The Nets were the team Howard named as his preferred destination when he forced his way out of Orlando. Had things gone the way he and Williams had planned, there would have been no need for all of the trades that have reshaped this seasoned and expensive starting five into the unit that it has become. The expectations for this crew will dwarf anything that Williams, Johnson and Lopez experienced in their inaugural season in Brooklyn. There was a tempered excitement with everything from the roster to the arena being so shiny and new.  There was hope that things would turn out well, but certainly no concrete expectation that a championship contender was on the immediate horizon. This time around, anything short of a spirited charge to the conference finals will be considered a colossal failure.

NEW YORK KNICKS

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If Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 2006 Draft, has any chance of shedding that “bust” label that has plagued him throughout his NBA career, his pending stint with the Knicks might be his last chance to do so. His critics are probably chuckling at the idea of the big man thriving on a team with Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire. There are others, however, who feel that Bargnani has found the perfect fit for his skill set in coach Mike Woodson‘s system. “Listen, Andrea can play. He has a skill set that is undeniable,” said a former NBA coach of the Year. “You have to get over the fact that he’s not going to be Dirk [Nowitzki] or even Pau [Gasol], at his best, and realize that he’s a 7-footer that can shoot the cover off the ball. You put him in the right system, where he can play pick-and-pop and play his role, and he’s going to be dangerous.” The Knicks need dangerous and then some. They found that out in the playoffs, when it became clear that their hobbled group was not up to the task of dealing with a grimy Pacers crew that worked them over inside. The Knicks have likely fallen behind the Nets entering next season, but if Stoudemire is healthy and Anthony is refreshed, that could change quickly. The Knicks have the firepower to challenge for a top-three spot in the East.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

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Stunner, right? The lowly Wizards hanging out in playoff territory isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. If you watched the Wizards down the stretch last season, or at least when both John Wall and Bradley Beal were healthy and rolling, you know why we’ve got the Wizards this high. Drafting Otto Porter Jr. with the No. 3 pick was a no-brainer for a team in need of swingman capable of playing alongside Wall and Beal. Porter provides the defense Wizards coach Randy Wittman and his staff seek and is capable of stretching the floor as a 3-point shooter with the size (6-foo-8) necessary to worry teams who focus solely on Wall and Beal. The Wizards also have the workman-like bigs (Emeka Okafor and Nene) that will handle all of the dirty work and allow this ultra-talented backcourt to play at a pace that suits them. Fleshing out their roster by retaining shooter Martell Webster, picking up backup point guard Eric Maynor and snagging Glen Rice Jr. in the second round of the Draft, the Wizards finally have a top-to-bottom type roster capable of making an impact any night.

ATLANTA HAWKS

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Paul Millsap. DeMarre Carroll. Kyle Korver. And maybe Monta Ellis? That’s not exactly the kind of superstar haul Hawks fans were expecting when the franchise made it clear that they were going to put that $34 million-$40 million in cap space to good use by chasing Howard and Chris Paul. Those dreams were dashed immediately. Howard gave the Hawks a courtesy meeting when he knew all along that there was absolutely no chance he was coming back home to chase rings. And the minute Doc Rivers went to the Clippers, the dream of making up for passing over Paul in the 2005 Draft (for Marvin Williams) was dashed. Still, the Hawks should have a nucleus of the aforementioned players added to Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins, a group capable of securing one of the final three playoff slots in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. New coach Mike Budenholzer will have his work cut out for him with a mismatched roster that Horford will have to anchor from the center position he was hoping to escape with the addition of a quality center in free agency (Andrew Bynum and restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic are still out there …). And there is till an unsettled point guard position to deal with. Restricted free-agent point guard Jeff Teague is rumored to be the target of the Milwaukee Bucks, who have a restricted free agent of their own in Brandon Jennings that might interest the Hawks. The franchise has a string of six straight playoff appearances going right now. They should have the necessary parts to make it seven straight.

DETROIT PISTONS

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The addition of Josh Smith, for four years and $56 million in free agency, does not put the Pistons into the playoff picture. Not by itself. But there is a void this crew can possibly fill for that No. 8 spot in the East. Adding Smith to a maturing frontcourt that includes Greg Monroe, rugged young monster Andre Drummond, rotation players Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko and second-rounder Tony Mitchell gives the Pistons the size, depth and versatility that screams playoffs. Adding an athletic specimen like Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, the No. 8 pick in the Draft, to pair with point guard Brandon Knight and it’s clear that the Pistons are working with resources that should finally get them out of the lottery mix.  Perhaps the most important thing for the Pistons was the hiring of Mo Cheeks as their coach. He replaces Lawrence Frank, now the top assistant in Brooklyn under Kidd, who never could find the right connection with his young crew. Cheeks is coming into this situation having helped nurture an extremely talented and hard-working group of young stars in Oklahoma City. Expect him to have a clearly defined plan for all of these guys to improve their individual games. Cheeks and Pistons general manager Joe Dumars also have the ear and respect of Smith. They are the ones who swayed him during the recruiting process. If he plays the way they think he can, this should be a breakout season for the Pistons.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors

Wizards, Wittman Chasing .500

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The moving target that has been Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis‘ expectation for his basketball team through the years got firmed up considerably about a month ago. Splitting some sort of difference between chasing a playoff berth and avoiding the bottom two or three spots in the NBA standings, Leonsis set a clear goal: Finish .500 in the games remaining, counting from point guard John Wall‘s return from a left knee injury.

Simple enough, to track if not to achieve. After all, the Wizards without Wall went 5-28 through the first 33 games of 2012-13. That would suggest that more than just a one-player fix was needed – Nene was hurting too, with Washington 1-12 in the big man’s absences. But Wall’s return to action on Jan. 12 seemed a reasonable line of demarcation, representing the biggest talent boost these guys were going to get.

So far? So fair. As in neither great nor rotten, as in mediocre, as in middling, as in meeting Leonsis’ January-imposed standard, as in way better than they were. Washington is 10-9 with Wall. Since Jan. 7, the low point after 33 games, it has posted a better W-L record than eight of the 14 other Eastern Conference teams and it now looks down rather than up in the standings at Charlotte and Orlando.

A glimpse of some team stats shows the difference Wall has helped make at both ends of the floor:

                        Pre-John Wall              Post-John Wall

W-L:                 5-28                             10-9

PPG:                89.2                             94.7

OPPG:             97.2                             91.7

FG%:               40.8                             46.2

DFG%:            44.0                             43.0

The defense that kept Washington in more games than it otherwise would have managed now ranks fifth with a 102.0 defensive rating. Offensively, the Wizards still are 30th of the NBA’s 30 (97.7). But with Wall back, and with top pick Bradley Beal developing rapidly (including East rookie of the month honors in December and January), the work coach Randy Wittman got out of them even in lean times has been paying off.

“We’re not surprised at all,” Beal said at All-Star Weekend. “In our heads, our record should be backwards. If we had everybody healthy, if things were right ever since the beginning … not to use that as an excuse but since [Wall has] been back, everything’s been perfect. John creates so much more space out there on the floor. So with myself and some other shooters, and then our bigs down low, I think it’s going to be difficult for a team to guard us.”

Defensively, Washington has held 11 consecutive opponents under 100 points, its longest such streak since March 1999. That’s in jeopardy this weekend with Denver in D.C. Friday and Houston showing up Saturday. Still, the Wizards’ defensive habits aren’t likely to be lost – tested maybe but not lost – in a span of 48 hours.

“Usually a team that has our record, they’re a sieve at the other end,” assistant coach Jerry Sichting said recently. “Our guys bought in, they played good defense. Most of our problems, we just couldn’t score. The first two months, we were really lucky to get to 90. Sometimes we were struggling to get into the 80s. But Randy’s got them playing hard and he’s got them playing defense, so the foundation is there to win games.”

There’s one of the X factors in this: Wittman. Once assumed to be a Bob Knight disciple in coaching style stemming from his Indiana roots – and overlooking his nine seasons in the NBA not playing for Knight, followed by years as an assistant with the Pacers, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Magic and Wizards – Wittman is on his third head coaching job. Each circumstance has been different – though consistently lousy – and he has learned at every stop.

“He’s a coach who believes in his team,” Wizards guard Martell Webster said. “Now that we’re starting to buy into the system, it’s paying off for us. He was never worried about his position. … He was very frank with [management] and very up front that it didn’t matter. He cared about us and what went on in this locker room.”

Wittman, 53, took over in Cleveland in 1999 in the thick of center Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas‘ foot problems – Big Z didn’t play at all in Wittman’s first season with the Cavs and lasted only 24 games in the second before re-injuring himself. In Minnesota in January 2007, he stepped in as a midseason replacement – then had Kevin Garnett traded out from under him that summer.

He took over on the fly again last season after Washington’s 2-15 start under Flip Saunders. Harboring playoff ambitions two years earlier, the roster underwent a veterans purge in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas fiasco, then an overload of immaturity (JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young) set up a second purge.

Wittman did well enough with what was left standing to finish 9-8 last spring and earn a fresh contract in June. And yet, there’s this:

Lowest winning percentage for NBA coaches with 400-plus games:

            .326     Randy Wittman, 133-275

            .369     Wes Unseld, 202-345

            .382     Garry St. Jean, 172-278

            .388     Tom Nissalke, 248-391

            .401     John Lucas, 173-258  

– Compiled by Elias Sports Bureau

Depending how you look at that chart, no head coach in NBA history has failed as often over such a long period. Or none has had the opportunity to fail that often. It’s almost like an MLB pitcher who loses 20 games; some manager must think he’s pretty good to give him the ball that many times.

Leonsis said last month that evaluating Wittman and his staff with a banged-up, shorthanded team would have been unfair. Basically, that’s the same job he had with the Cavs and the Wolves, too. Whatever the teams’ deficiencies have been, though, that .326 dogs him, not the individual players, the trainers or anyone else.

“I’ve never been in a situation good or bad where I wished I wasn’t in it,” Wittman said. “Even the tough start we had this year, I didn’t have any complaints. Our guys played their asses off. You try to keep them fighting and playing, and at some point it’s going to turn. Hopefully we’ve reached that point now.”

Some coaches benefit from good timing (San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich) and build from there. Others ride a wave of improving circumstances (Miami’s Erik Spoelstra). Still others hang back (Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau), waiting years for an opportunity that won’t instantly eat them alive.

That old saying about there being only 30 of these incredible, high-paying coach jobs in the world? Well, not all 30 are equally incredible.

“Most of the guys who would kill for that opportunity have never had to do it,” Sichting said. “It’s not easy, especially taking over in the middle of the season. Obviously things were going the wrong way or you wouldn’t be taking over.

“The thing that wins more than anything is talent. When you’re undermanned because of what your roster looks like or because of injuries, it’s really hard to win a game in this league. But Randy works his tail off. He’s got a great mind for the game, X- and O-wise. He lost a few pounds earlier in the year, but he’s making a comeback. We’ll get some more pounds on him.”

The key for the next two months: Win one of every two games. Prior to this 10-9 stretch, the longest a Wittman team ever stayed at or above .500 was in 2000-01, when the Cavs got to 20-20 before an Ilgauskas-less 10-32 swoon.

There might be more pressure now that Washington is fully manned (or nearly so, with Jordan Crawford traded and Cartier Martin limping). But then, there’s always pressure relative to the expectations, whether the owner’s, the fans’ or the individiuals. Otherwise, as Wittman sees it, you’re not setting the bar high enough.

“Hell, I hate losing. I don’t deal with it very well,” he said. “But if sit and worry about that, you’ll never amount to anything. Seriously, I don’t ever think ‘Aw, this is another tough year.’ I’ve been doing this a long time. You try to learn from it and become a better coach next year.”

While winning enough to get yourself asked back.

Duncan Injury Packs Worry For Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO — As if they didn’t have enough to lug around on a nine-game trip that will keep them away from home for most of the month, now the Spurs have to pack concern about Tim Duncan’s health.

There was a collective gasp at the AT&T Center when Duncan went down with just over four minutes left in the second quarter and had to be carried off the floor by DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson. Then there was sigh of relief when teammates later saw him walk out of the locker room under his own power without crutches.

“He’s fine. He’s fine,” said Tony Parker. “It’s nothing big. I’m sure [coach Greg Popovich] is going to be very cautious about his knee and we’ll see. He was pretty positive.”

The early diagnosis was a sprained right ankle and sprained left knee. But, one week after Rajon Rondo walked away from what was first thought to be a minor injury and then found out that he’d torn his ACL and was lost for the season, the Spurs will not rest easy until Duncan undergoes an MRI.

“That was scary when you see that,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “Those are always the ones you don’t want to see when a guy falls into you while your feet are planted on the ground. I just talked to his doctors and they said he is going to be fine. That was not a pretty thing to see.”

It was clear that Duncan’s injury affected the rest of the lineup. After building a 27-point lead in the first half, the Spurs lost focus and let the Wizards get as close as six points early in the fourth quarter.

“That’s going on through everybody’s mind …What’s happening?” Jackson said. “To have our best player go down like that, holding his knee and his ankle it’s frustrating.

“Nobody really seen him at halftime, because he was in [the training room] trying to figure out what’s wrong. I don’t really know the in’s and out’s of what happened, but I seen him walk out of here, so that’s always good.”

Washington’s Martell Webster drove to the hoop and had his shot blocked by the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. After Webster went to the floor, he rolled from behind onto Duncan’s ankle and knee. The big man stayed down on the floor as play continued to the other end where Danny Green scored a layup. Parker then took a foul to stop the clock as the Spurs’ medical staff ran onto the floor.

Duncan was making his return after missing four straight games with a sore left knee. He had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. Duncan had said that he could have returned for Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, but instead settled for three more days of rest. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.74 blocked shots per game this season and was recently named to the Western Conference All-Star team for the 14th time in his 16-year NBA career.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Timmy like that,” Green said. “I’ve seen him hurt before, the bumps, the bruises. He usually gets right back up. I figured today he was feeling good leg-wise. When we started out, he was playing well, back in rhythm. Seeing him go down, feeling as well as I thought he felt, kind of sucks, not just for him, but for us. We’re gonna need him. On this nice little road trip, a guy like that could help.

“I didn’t get to see the play. I heard it was his knee and ankle at the same time, which seems kind of weird. I don’t know how it happened. I had never seen him get carried off the floor, so I hoped it wasn’t serious and that we would have him at least for part of this road trip.

“We seen him right after the game. He seemed OK. Timmy’s always optimistic. It didn’t seem like it [was serious], but you never know with Timmy. His expressions don’t really tell you what’s going on. He’s always optimistic. He’s one of the greatest guys ever to play this game because he’s a pretty tough guy. He’s played through some pain and some injury, so he’s probably not going to show you he’s hurt like that, even if it was serious. But I think he should be OK.”

Wall’s Return Puts Heat On Wittman

 

HANG TIME, Texas – The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.

But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.

Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.

Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.

“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”

Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.

When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”

Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal – they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.

While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.

“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”

Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.

If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.

Blogtable: It’s Tough Being A Coach




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 11: Kevin Garnett is … | Encouraging signs for Lakers? | Next coach to go


Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, now Scott Skiles: Next? Please explain.

Steve Aschburner: Maybe we should note the specifics of those situations, with Mike Brown‘s firing a panic move, Johnson’s pink slip driven by unrealistic expectations of his bosses and Skiles’ departure a mutal thing set up by his lame-duck contract status. Then again, maybe those are distinctions without differences. Coaches topple every season and someone surely is next. Hate bandying about a fellow’s job security but I wonder how patient the Maloofs will be with Keith Smart in Sacramento (with DeMarcus Cousins as an X-factor in this dynamic). I also wonder how much improvement John Wall really will bring in Washington – without a big bump, Randy Wittman could be getting cross-eyed looks too. Guess I’m going with one of the former Hoosiers not named Mike Woodson.

Fran Blinebury: The obvious choice would seem to be Randy Wittman as the Wizards wallow at the bottom of the standings, but it’s happening without John Wall.  So here’s a wild thought.  If the Lakers continue going completely over the cliff, how long can they keep selling Mike D’Antoni as the answer?

Jeff Caplan: I’m not going with probably the most obvious name, Washington’s Randy Wittman, because of all the injuries. I think he’s used like 15 different starting point guards already. And, hey, he’s worked wins over Miami and Oklahoma City. Let him get John Wall in there and see if they can catch a spark. In the East, of the teams in the playoff mix, Milwaukee and Brooklyn have already done the deed. The teams out of the playoff mix have relatively new coaches. And then there’s Byron Scott in Cleveland, who in my estimation is running neck-and-neck with Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper: I guess we’re not saying Vinny Del Negro anymore. In that case, Randy Wittman. Once John Wall returns, possibly by the end of the week, the Wizards need to show considerable improvement. It’s one thing to be on 12-win pace with a beat-up roster, but quite another if this path continues for much longer.

Sekou Smith: Plenty of coaches should be worried now that guys whose teams are playing .500 or better are getting their walking papers. Judging a coach based solely on his team’s record, however, seems like a thing of the past. There’s so much more involved these days, what with all of the advanced metrics involved in the game today. It takes a very particular set of circumstances for a franchise to make a coaching change. We could pick on Alvin Gentry in Phoenix or even Randy Wittman in Washington, guys who have been in place for a while now and still haven’t been able to guide their teams out of the basement of their respective conferences. Skiles going was a bit of a surprise. But Brown and Johnson came into the season with more pressure on them than any other pair of coaches in the league. The expectations for both teams were enormous. So you knew if they struggled or failed to measure up to those expectations, there was a chance they could get popped. Beyond those obvious situations, however, there aren’t any glaring candidates for the coaching hot seat right now.

Blogtable: ‘Cats, Cavs, Wizards




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 10: The best team in the NBA | Show us you’re worth it | Best, worst: ‘Cats, Cavs or Wizards


At the end of the season, who has the best record: Charlotte, Washington or Cleveland? Worst?

Steve Aschburner: Ah yes, the single-digit sweepstakes, the NBA equivalent of lobsters trying to claw over each other to get out of the pot. My guess for the final ranking of the Eastern Conference’s three worst teams is 1) Cavaliers, 2) Wizards, 3) Bobcats. Cleveland has two guys – Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao – who have played at an All-Star level, something neither Washington nor Charlotte can boast. The Wizards are anticipating a bump when point guard John Wall returns, though their head coach – Randy Wittman – probably is shakiest of the three fellows leading these clubs. The Bobcats remain in developmental mode, with victories nice, but playing time and seasoning as higher priorities for their young players. No team, frankly, is playing less to win this season than Charlotte – and that mission likely will be accomplished.

Fran Blinebury: With a healthy Kyrie Irving back in the lineup, I like Cleveland in this race of bottom dwellers. But that’s assuming the Cavs don’t unload Anderson Varejao at the trade deadline.  The worst of the bunch is clearly the Wizards, a train-wreck of a franchise that long ago went over the basketball cliff.

Jeff Caplan: I want to say Cleveland will have the best record of three solely because of Kyrie Irving. He’s a phenomenal talent, but he has so little help. So I’m picking Charlotte to have the best record of this woeful trio. Even though they lost 18 in a row, as crazy as that sounds. I think they have a better overall roster and the pain from  the seven-win season remains with them. As for the Wizards, I am impressed how hard this team plays yet nets so few results. Unless John Wall returns soon and is spectacular immediately, this group will remain in the cellar.

Scott Howard-Cooper:  Washington. There, I said it. The Wizards need to make up four games to move to the front of your illustrious pack. That is very much within reason because (a) they are planning to have John Wall and Nene healthy the second half of the season, and (b) the Cavaliers and Bobcats are the competition. Cleveland will challenge for the lead as well. Worst: Charlotte. While the long losing streak is not a true read – the Bobcats are better than that – the roster has more holes than the others.

John Schuhmann: I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was asked this exact question at my holiday get-togethers. Such a hot topic in the streets! Cleveland will finish with the best record of the three, because Kyrie Irving is the best player on any of these teams and the Cavs have played the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference thus far. And Charlotte will finish with the worst record of the three, because they’re just awful on both ends of the floor. The Wizards have been good enough defensively to keep them in some games, and maybe John Wall will be back soon.

Sekou Smith: Based on the presence of Kyrie Irving alone the Cavaliers should be the pick. But the Bobcats, even with that nasty losing streak on their first quarter report card, still sit ahead of both of the Cavaliers and Wizards in the standings right now. As much as they’ve been ridiculed here and elsewhere for their struggles, it’s hard to see how two teams that couldn’t make up ground on a team in the midst of a staggering 18-game losing streak are all of a sudden going to pass the Bobcats up now that the worst is presumably over. And to their credit, the Bobcats battled during that losing streak. They were not just taking beatings without putting up a fight. That kind of intestinal fortitude will come in handy over the next three and a half months of action.

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Wizards Fall To 0-12 … And Counting

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Along the maddening trail to 0-12, there have been the gut-punches — three points combined in consecutive overtime losses to Charlotte (double OT) and at Atlanta, a near-22-point comeback at Dallas, four points at Indiana, OT at Boston and a three-point home loss to the Celtics.

Close was not the case Monday night at Verizon Center. The still-winless Washington Wizards, still without point guard John Wall, were run out of their own gym by the surging San Antonio Spurs, 118-92, the largest margin of defeat in an already defeated season.

Adding insult to injury, former Wizards big man Andray Blatche, who’s still pocketing $23 million from the franchise after being amnestied in July and eventually signed by Brooklynis taking cheap shots at his old team in the media and through his own brand of bastardized English on Twitter:

Such is the depressing life of the Wizards. Team president Ernie Grunfeld‘s dumping of high-priced Rashard Lewis for veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor has been a disaster. The hailed return of Nene lasted two games before yet another departure to rest his problematic foot. In Nene’s limited floor time of 49 minutes, Washington is a plus-31, so the big fella can definitely help pound out a ‘W’ if he can stay on the court.

Still, Randy Wittman‘s bunch must now be viewed as a serious contender to crash the league record for consecutive losses to start a season. Just two seasons ago, the Wizards lost 25 consecutive road games to start the season, the third-longest such skid in NBA history. Last season they started 0-8.

Now they’re two-thirds to 0-18, the worst start ever by an NBA team and owned by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. The lockout-shortened 1999 Los Angeles Clippers and the 1988-89 expansion Miami Heat started 0-17. These Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 12 consecutive losses.

They’ll try to avoid a baker’s dozen at home Wednesday night against a smarting Portland team that dropped an ugly one at Detroit on Monday night.

How realistic is 0-18 or — gasp! — worse? Here’s their next six: vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, vs. Golden State, at New Orleans. Those six teams are a combined 49-34, and the worst of the lot, the Hornets (4-9), beat the Clippers in L.A. on Monday.

Then comes this hefty four-pack: at Houston, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Miami, vs. Atlanta.

Before the Wizards fell to 0-7 nearly two weeks ago following a 107-101 defeat at Dallas where they reversed a blowout, but couldn’t tie it up in the final minute, first-year Washington forward Martell Webster said he and his teammates, many of them new to the team as well, are determined to turn around the moribund franchise.

“Who else is going to do it?” Webster said. “It’s easy when things don’t go well to start blaming and start pointing fingers, but I don’t believe in that. When you think about it with your family, when you have problems you don’t point fingers, you work to resolve the problem as a family, as a unit, and I think that’s the most important thing. We’re a family, a unit and we’re not going to point fingers. We’re going to take accountability and responsibility for all of our individual actions, but at the end of the day we’re settling the problem ourselves.”

Still, there’s little doubt that as the losses mount so does the mental anguish.

Beal Balances Breaking In, Criticism And A Charge Of Flipping a Franchise

 

DALLAS – Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal is 19 years old, a solid month still from 19 1/2. An anonymous college sophomore in another life. In this life, he’s an over-analyzed, scrutinized and criticized No. 3 draft pick starting on the NBA’s worst team. Worse yet, the team’s star point guard and its proven veteran center are injured and no one knows when they’ll be back.

Beal’s introduction to the man’s game long before he can legally down a postgame cold one has force-fed him both to the spotlight and to the wolves, when in reality, his beaming smile can’t hide that he’s as bright-eyed about balling in the same arenas as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as are the kids who scream for his autograph during pre-game warmups.

Pressure? Heck, yes. And believe it, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard feels it and his teammates hear it.

“I hear it all the time, you see it on Twitter and stuff like that,” Beal said Wednesday night before the Wizards fell to 0-7 after nearly eradicating a 22-point deficit against Dallas in a 107-101 loss. “People expect you to score 50 every night and it’s almost impossible. I’m really not focused on what people on the outside are saying. I’m really focusing on what my team needs to do, and I’m really focusing on what my coach wants me to do as well. As long as I’m doing that I think I’ll be fine.”

With no John Wall to break down defenses and no Nene to anchor their own, the Wizards rank as one of the worst scoring offenses in the league and near the bottom in field-goal percentage defense. They’re also the league’s most irrelevant big-market franchise. With early hope for this season’s revamped roster dimmed by injury, fans have little else in which to deposit their faith than to bank on the youngster Beal, the team’s leading scorer — despite four single-digit games and shooting just 32 percent — and, appallingly, its most recognizable healthy face.

“I’m handling it fine,” Beal said. “Honestly, I mean, from the outside looking in, people pressure me. They think I’m supposed to be the savior of the team, so to speak, but I don’t view myself as being the savior. There’s me and 14 other guys on this team. We’re a team, so not everything is just placed on me; the scoring’s not just placed on me, or it’s not placed on any individual player, it’s a team effort. That’s the way I view it and that’s the way I’m going to keep playing.”

As important as his athletic superiority and scoring prowess were to climbing the draft boards to No. 3 after one season at Florida, Beal is equipped with a big-picture maturity and honesty that will serve him well during his crash course of inevitable hard knocks.

He’s writing a rookie column for SLAM Magazine and in this week’s edition he writes how he misses going to class because he’s always liked school, “especially math and science.” He calls himself a geeky guy and then proves it again by writing he hasn’t done much with his first paycheck: “I haven’t made any big purchases, honestly, besides the apartment I live.”

Teammate Martell Webster weighed in: “You see his potential. The kid is good. He’s been dealing with the criticism and the pressure very well. He hears how he’s not being aggressive; I think he’s been extremely aggressive.”

When Wall returns, and there remains no target date, it will ease the burden on Beal, who is averaging a team-best 11.6 points. Until then, defenses will hound him, as the Mavericks did on Wednesday night, limiting him to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. The night before at Charlotte, he missed 10 of his 11 shots.

“It’s tough because, one, it’s not easy to win in this league,” Beal said. “Coach (Randy) Wittman always tells us that. You can ask any player, like LeBron says that, says it’s hard to win every game. Every game that we’ve lost besides (Tuesday at Charlotte), I think you can literally say that we gave it our all and we should have won the game.”

Four of the Wizards’ seven losses are by six points or less. He had a season-high 22 points on 50 percent shooting and eight trips to the free-throw line against Milwaukee; 16 points in an overtime loss at Boston; and 17 points on a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in another heartbreak loss of the season at Indiana.

“He’s going to be somebody that makes shots for us, runs the floor,” said Wall, well-versed in the pressure of flipping a franchise. “Every game is not going to be his best, and I think we understand that and he understands that, but he’s just got to keep taking shots, keep being aggressive for our team.”

His next opportunity is Saturday night at home against the Utah Jazz, a notoriously poor road team that’s now 1-6 this season away from home. It will be only the Wizards’ third home game in the opening weeks, a road-weary start that has had Beal waking up not knowing which city he’s in or forgetting what day it is.

Meanwhile, the 19-year-old rookie goes to sleep still attempting to absorb both his breathtaking quantum leap to the big stage and the bleakness of the franchise with which he landed.

“This is my rookie year so I’m really just enjoying it all. To actually play in these situations and these environments, I mean, I’m taking it all in, honestly,” Beal said. “We’re more than capable of winning games. We just have to deal with what we have and when John and Nene get back we’re going to be that much better.”