Wake-up call: More likely than not, Wittman will be back

Wake-up call: More likely than not, Wittman will be back
April 4, 2014, 6:00 am
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Hidden in the most interesting comments made after the Wizards qualified for the playoffs Wednesday night was this nugget from coach Randy Wittman when speaking about rookie Otto Porter: "I love what I'm going to be able to do in coaching this kid. He's going to be a player." Meaning that Wittman, who is in the final year of his contract, expects to be here after this season. 

Should he? Probably, barring a late-season collapse and embarrassing showing in the postseason.

Owner Ted Leonsis has said all along that he'll only address Wittman's fate after the season. In eight years as a head coach, three with the Wizards, Wittman is in the postseason for the first time. He's 86-120 here, tasked with rebuilding a team from the ground up, taking over for Flip Saunders, who had been fired in 2011-12 season, and developing a point guard, John Wall, who only had one year of experience running a team in college and wasn't being challenged to be more disciplined. 

Wittman already has won the endorsement of key players on the roster: Wall, the superstar with the max contract; Nene, the veteran who has the next biggest contract; and Al Harrington and Andre Miller, 16-year vets. Only Harrington isn't under the contract for next season. 

When things go wrong, as they have in countless games for the Wizards this season when they've blown leads or winnable games on paper, Wittman usually is fingered as the problem.

Sure, his rotations earlier in the season were inconsistent, in part, because players such as Eric Maynor, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely, were inconsistent. But this was a 29-win team a season ago and now the Wizards (39-36) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and with a legitimate chance of advancing out of the first round if they can attain a No. 6 seed or better. And they did it with Bradley Beal playing under a minutes restriction for a bulk of the season, Harrington missing 47 games with a knee injury and Nene still out with a left knee ligament strain and missing his 27th game overall Friday when they play at the New York Knicks (CSN, 7:30). 

Unlike some coaches in his position, Wittman hasn't been afraid to call out his star player when he lacks defensive effort and focus. Wall, who credits Wittman's tough love for making him to be better, is the quarterback of the team, the one with the ball in his hands who has to make sure he gets teammates involved.

Martell Webster should never go 21 minutes with just one shot attempt as he did in a season-opening loss at the Detroit Pistons. Phil Pressey, an undrafted free agent rookie, should never torch Wall for a career-high 20 points and lead the Boston Celtics to an overtime victory like he did at Verizon Center in January. 

"The way he goes defensively," Harrington said of Wall earlier this week, "is the way we go as a team."

Wittman has gotten Wall, who Kentucky coach John Calipari said needed to learn to temper his emotions, to lead and take responsibility even when he isn't always the one responsible. 

Big-name coaches such as George Karl and Lionel Hollins remain unemployed, and surely once this season is completed more will join them. 

Hollins is old school, and he can be stubborn and abrasive, like Wittman. Karl can win in the regular season but didn't find much success in the postseason. Both would cost more.

Finish strong, however, and Wittman probably need not worry.