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The Washington Wizards Are Dancing With The Randy Wittman That Brought Them

Feb 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan: Apparently, the Washington Wizards and Randy Wittman are this close to agreeing on an extension because…well, it’s not clear why, really. The Wizards made the playoffs, great. With a roster that talented, and a conference that putrid, it would have been inexcusable had they missed the postseason. It’s nice that they beat a limping Chicago Bulls in the first round, but can you honestly look at the Wizards’ achievements this year, look at the other coaches available (both veteran and “rookie”), then look at Randy Wittman and say “yep, he’s the best choice to lead this team?”

Bill: I agree with your (rather blunt) assessments of Wittman and the state of the Eastern Conference, but keep in mind that water flows along the path of least resistance – and oftentimes, so do NBA front offices. Wittman is the safe, easy choice. He led Washington to the second round of the playoffs, a place the Wizards/Bullets have been twice in the last three decades. The players openly lobbied for him to return. And despite the fact that a victory over the “limping” Bulls appeared obvious in retrospect, almost all of the experts heavily favored Chicago prior to the series.

It would be a tough sell to the guys in the locker room, as well as the fan base, for a guy who achieved unexpected success to be shown the door. It’s much easier to extend Wittman than to run the risk (and deal with the fuss) of hiring a new coach, especially if the Wizards regress in 2014-15. I’m not advocating that line of thinking, but I understand it.
Picking on Wittman is fun and all, and lots of people on Twitter love to do it. He has the worst record in NBA history among coaches who have logged 400+ games. But looking at his track record, the best player on his Cleveland teams was a fat, washed up Shawn Kemp, and his primary backcourt in Minnesota was Marko Jaric and Rashad McCants. He’s never had this kind of talent (Wall, Beal, Nene) before. Is it so crazy to think having a decent roster (who have time to gel and play in the same system for multiple seasons) could bring about better results?
Jordan: Could it happen? Sure, of course, but when you watch the Wizards play, it doesn’t seem very likely. Their sets were stale, if even existent, Beal still took an inordinate amount of just-inside-the-arc two-pointers, and let’s not forget they had a few contract year guys playing out of their mind (I’m looking at you, Ariza). It’s almost as if they succeed in spite of Wittman’s presence.

Back to what you said about how it’s easier to extend Wittman than hire a new coach. While I understand the whole notion of dancing with the girl that brought you here (hold on I need to open photoshop oh no reason why do you ask), like you, I don’t think it’s sound logic. I’m not so sure the fan base would have reacted negatively to not extending Wittman. Fans can be smart, sometimes. Maybe. And even if they were upset, you’d have to think that a better coach, who makes better use of this roster, would quickly fill the Wittman-sized hole in their hearts right?
Overall, to me, this just stinks of sticking with the status quo. And while sometimes, the status quo can actually be a good thing, this time it just seems like they’re settling for good enough.
Bill: Fair enough. But who would you prefer to take the reins in Washington? George Karl? Lionel Hollins? Karl would undoubtedly help whip the offense into shape; they improved from 30th in Offensive Rating in 2012-13 to 16th this season, but as you pointed out, they still have a long way to go. Hollins would somewhat reinforce the (surprising) defensive nature of the team (top-10 in Defensive Rating the past two seasons).

But they settled on Wittman. I’m not saying the coach makes no difference, but Washington’s success next season seems dependent on factors outside the coach’s control. The Wizards were freakishly healthy in 2013-14 (the core four of Wall, Ariza, Gortat and Beal missed a combined total of 16 games) and would be fortunate to receive that sort of luck for a second straight season. Ariza and Gortat are pending free agents, and it’s fair to wonder if their production would drop if they do obtain the rather large paydays coming their way (provided, too, that they decide to return to the Verizon Center). Their replacements would have to develop quickly – a lot of pressure would be put on career role player Martell Webster and last season’s 3rd overall pick, Otto Porter, Jr.
Coaches can influence all those variables, but if Wittman struggles to win with average injury luck, a few veterans departing in free agency and rookies failing to develop, is that all on him? Or is some of it on the front office? Am I oversimplifying this?
Jordan: I don’t think you’re oversimplifying it, but I don’t think it’s one or the other. We can think about this in terms of the Pacers after the trade deadline. We killed Vogel for playing Turner too much (read: at all), but at the same time, he had to make do with the pieces handed to him by the front office, not that that completely absolves Vogel of blame. So if Wittman struggles because of health or because the roster isn’t as good as this year, some fault will be his for not making necessary adjustments, but some will also belong to the front office who failed to give Wittman the necessary pieces. Wait. Did I just make your point?

I guess my disappointment in the Wizards stems in part from wanting something to be better than it is. The Wizards could be so much fun to watch! They should be! Beal and Wall alone should be worth the price of admission. And while at times they were, it always felt like they could be something more, at least from an aesthetics standpoint. Does that make sense?
Bill: It makes perfect sense. I guess it comes down to whether you believe the NBA is a players’ league or a coaches’ league. Bradley Beal turns 21 at the end of June, and John Wall turns 24 in September. Provided Beal signs an extension in Washington, they’ll share the same backcourt for at least five more seasons. They’ll have plenty of time to coalesce and become something better – a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference – and who knows? Maybe Randy Wittman will progress and evolve along with them. If Wall’s jump shot keeps improving and Beal’s decision-making takes a step in the right direction (i.e. fewer midrange shots, like you mentioned earlier), the Wizards would immediately become exponentially more watchable.

Look: if bloggers ran the NBA, the Wizards would’ve shown Wittman the door, and George Karl would have been brought in, because that’d be a hell of a lot of fun. But after our mock draft last week, it’s probably for the best that we bloggers don’t wield any real power. I agree that Wittman’s three year extension is an underwhelming move – but at least the Wizards have some quality young players under long-term control. Not even Wittman can screw that up.

Jordan White

Jordan White loves basketball, loves writing and loves writing about basketball. He marvels at every Ricky Rubio pass and cries after every Brandon Roy highlight. He grew up in Kansas, where, contrary to popular belief, there is running water, electricity, and no singing munchkins. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanSWhite