Posts Tagged ‘Wes Unseld’

Wittman goes from ‘worst’ to ‘first’ as Wizards make playoff noise

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Wizards’ Game 2 win

The NBA playoffs are only two games old for the Washington Wizards, but that’s enough for their coach, Randy Wittman, to already have gone from worst to first.

Some stipulations on the terms are necessary here: Wittman, whose eight seasons as a head coach have been split among Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington stints, ended the 2013-14 regular season with the worst winning percentage (.367, 191-329) of any NBA coach who has worked at least 400 games. That cutoff covers 90 men and a bunch of Hall of Famers, from Phil Jackson‘s record .704 success rate to Lenny Wilkens‘ .536 over the largest sample size (2,487 games).

Next-worst behind Wittman by a coach who meets the 400-game criterion? Former Washington center and coach Wes Unseld (.367, 202-345). Which means that, if the Wizards go 12-15 in their first 27 games next season, Wittman will climb out of that particular hole.

But he’s already out of the hole in his first taste of the postseason as a head coach. At 2-0, Wittman is in sole possession of the best winning percentage (1.000) in NBA playoff history.

That’s better than the No. 2 man, Jackson (.688), and way better than fellows such as Pat Riley (.606), Gregg Popovich (.618) and Red Auerbach (.589). Of course, those four guys coached a fat, round total of 1,001 playoff games, including Popovich’s work in Game 2 Wednesday against Dallas.

Obviously this all is a hoot, mere fun with numbers. If the Wizards lose the next two in their Eastern Conference first-round series against Chicago, Wittman will tumble all the way to .500. And so on.

But this little bump – not on his resume as much as in how Washington looks to have peaked for this opportunity, beating the Bulls twice at United Center – speaks to the situations Wittman has been in and his ability to survive. Or at least, re-surface.

In and around assistant jobs with Dallas, Minnesota, Orlando and Washington, Wittman got some some typical head coaching opportunities, i.e., bad teams. He went 62-102 with the pre-LeBron James Cavaliers and got fired. He took over when the Timberwolves dumped Dwane Casey (another comeback kid) in January 2006 and went 38-105 before getting the ax himself.

Then Wittman moved one seat over again two seasons ago, after Flip Saunders got fired at 2-15 but encouraged his top assistant to stick around. Wittman steered a motley Wizards group to an 18-31 finish, then went 29-53 last season when point guard John Wall‘s injuries provided at least a reasonable explanation for the struggles.

A former first-round pick as a guard/forward under Bobby Knight at Indiana University, Wittman played nine seasons in the NBA mostly for Atlanta and Indiana. In his assistant stints next to Saunders in Minnesota and Washington, he often was deployed as the “bad cop,” correcting players while Saunders stayed above the fray as the “good cop.”

Over time, borrowing from here and there, Wittman developed his coaching style. And it’s still developing.

“You learn by being thrown into the fire,” he said recently. “And yeah, you learn a ton of things that you like and things that, ‘Boy, you know, I can’t do that. I’ve got to change that part of my coaching.’

“You mellow out a little bit more, you learn to delegate. Back then, you just tried to have your hands on everything, and you can’t do that – it burns you out.”

This season, Wittman and the Wizards were said to have had a fire lit under them: Make the playoffs or (gulp). The franchise’s five-year drought of postseason appearances already was too long for owner Ted Leonsis, and there was talent in place capable of doing better. After a raggedy start – 25-27 through the All-Star break – and an extended absence by big man Nene, Washington started to gel.

Now the Wizards are playing as well as they have all season. Wittman, who worked with a target on his back for a couple of years, is getting credit from the outside and, more important, the inside. He welcomes references to his college coach, Knight, as far as a defensive influence. But Wittman seems to have backed off the scenery-chewing.

“What stands out to me the most, man, is how he stuck with us,” 20-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal said Tuesday in Chicago. “He came into a pretty bad situation and he basically turned the team around. He’s had faith and confidence in us from Day 1 – ever since I got here, at least – of what we’re capable of doing. And what kind of team we can be.

“For him having played in the NBA helps me out a lot, because he played my position. I learn something from him every day. He pushes us, challenges us every day to be the best we can be. He knew we could be a playoff team at the beginning of the year. Now we’re here. But we’re setting new goals and standards, saying, ‘Let’s get higher than that.’ “

The World, NBA Lose A Friend In Mandela


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses the legacy of icon Nelson Mandela
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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, the basketball world feels that pain deep in its collective soul, having lost one of its greatest ambassadors.

The anti-apartheid leader and former President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 died Thursday. He was 95. Mandela leaves a legacy as a global icon and activist who helped bring about seismic change in his native South Africa as the first black South African to hold the office. He was the first President elected in a fully representative, multiracial election and was a symbolic figure for freedom, democracy and change the world over.

The Mandela-led government was at the forefront of dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality while fostering racial reconciliation.

Mandela was the President of the African National Congress (ANC) and spent 27 years in South African prisons for his political views. He distinguished himself in all walks of life, earning global admiration. A passionate sports fan — he was a true believer in the power of sports uniting people of all walks of life, both in South Africa and around the world – Mandela was instrumental in the NBA’s partnership with South Africa, a mutually beneficial relationship that dates to 1993, some 10 years before the league’s Basketball Without Borders program made its initial foray into Africa.


VIDEO: Former and present NBA players remember life of Nelson Mandela

Players like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and coaches Wes Unseld and Lenny Wilkens joined forces with NBA Commissioner David Stern and then NBPA executive director Charlie Grantham for the first of two groundbreaking trips to the continent, helping to open doors for the NBA in that part of the world and allowing South Africa to show the rest of the world what it means to be transformed from a nation that epitomized racism into a democracy led by one of the greatest leaders the world has seen.

The NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in the spring of 2010, with former Dallas Mavericks executive and Amadou Gallo Fall, a native of Senegal, heading up that effort as the NBA’s vice president for development of the NBA in Africa.

Said Stern on Thursday:

“Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA.  He led his nation to democracy at incredible personal sacrifice, and in rebuilding it, he understood how to harness the power of sport to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds.  Our thoughts and hopes are with the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, and while we mourn his passing, we know that his legacy and quest for equality will endure.”

Can Thunder, Grizzlies top that?

OKLAHOMA CITY – Every player in the Thunder locker room is weary.

The Lakers and Spurs are out.

Every last man on the Grizzlies roster is exhausted.

The Magic and Knicks are gone.

Go ahead. Try to tell us what’s going to happen next.

Conventional wisdom, not to mention statistics provided by Elias Sports Bureau, says Oklahoma City is now in control. In series tied at 2-2, the team that won Game 4 prevailed 73.9 percent of the time in the past.

But what does that past have to do with the Thunder blowing a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 3 and losing to the Grizzlies in overtime? What does the past have to do with the Grizzlies blowing an 18-point lead in the first half and coming back from being 10 points down with five minutes left in regulation of Game 4? What does the past have anything to do with all of the insanity that happened through three mind-bending overtimes?

“I’ve kind of always felt like momentum isn’t a real thing. It’s not a tangible thing,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “I think the way this series has gone, you just have to come out and play each game.

“We’ve played great and we’ve played terrible in this series at different times. So we know that we’re capable of winning and we’re capable of dropping a game. Our mindset is we have to be ready to play in Game 5. I’m sure theirs is the same way. The stuff that happened in the past isn’t going to matter.”

If this is a so-called chess match, then the grand masters on the benches are out of moves. Lionel Hollins went small with his Grizzlies. Scott Brooks went small with his Thunder. Hollins went big. Brooks went big. In Game 4, they went until just short of 1 a.m. in what practically became an all-night pick-up game.

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About Last Night: Green Machines

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Too bad the Trail Blazers didn’t continue the St. Patrick’s Day theme by sporting green uniforms. That would have meant all three winning teams from last night rocked the green.

The green worked well for the Bulls and Knicks, but the Blazers didn’t really need to make a fashion statement to dispatch the lowly Cavaliers. The Bulls continue their domination of the competition this month, winning their eighth straight game and reclaiming their half-game lead over the Celtics for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

And to think some of you disagreed with our take last week about Derrick Rose being the frontrunner for MVP honors. He’s getting from all sides these days, including at opposing arenas, per our main man K.C. Johnson the Chicago Tribune:

The “MVP” chants occur in every arena now, including Thursday night in Prudential Center as the Bulls beat the Nets 84-73. If they eventually become reality, Derrick Rose will supplant Wes Unseld as the youngest most valuable player in NBA history.

Rose, 22, also will become the first player to win the award in his third season since Moses Malone in 1978-79. Michael Jordan won his first after his fourth season in 1987-88.
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