Though it always didn’t appear Randy Wittman would be the long-term answer for the Wizards, the franchise is banking on it which is why he now has a three-year deal that was signed and will be made official.
Just a few weeks after Wittman led the Wizards to the playoffs for the first time in six years, their best regular-season record in nine years (44-38) and their deepest advancement in the playoffs in nine years (second round), the Wizards are expected to make official later Tuesday. An informal meeting with the media will be schedulec for Wednesday at Verizon Center. Wittman's deal is worth $9 million but the final year isn't fully guaranteed.
Wittman took over for Flip Saunders just 17 games into the 2011-12 season and never had a winning record as a coach. He is 91-122 in Washington and 191-329 overall, including stops with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
In fairness, Wittman didn’t have much to work with especially when he began with the Wizards. That first roster was dysfunctional with Jordan Crawford, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young. Then in his first full season, 2012-13, he didn’t have John Wall or Nene because of injuries to start the season as they won 29 games ended with a starting five of Wall, Cartier Martin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin.
This past season, even after a stress injury briefly grounded Bradley Beal as he played for a long stretch on a minutes restriction as did Nene, Wittman guided the Wizards to a No. 5 seed and a first-round series victory vs. the Chicago Bulls. They pushed the Indiana Pacers to six games in the East semifinals.
Just as impressive was this: A year ago, the Wizards were a top 10 scoring defense –- the only non-playoff team among the lot –- and this past season tied with the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors for the conference’s best road record at 22-19.
Wittman met and exceeded the expectations of owner Ted Leonsis, who said "no excuses" when he made his playoffs-or-else edict.
Some of Wittman's rotations were baffling, such as not playing Kevin Seraphin after he went for what then was a season-high 18 points vs. the Houston Rockets on Jan. 11, playing him just 1:23 combined in the next two games and keeping him on the bench in the next game after that.
But plenty of other tactics worked. He took his star, Wall, to task publicly for his lapses in leadership and decision-making and instead of rebelling the fourth-year point guard responded by playing better and becoming a first-time All-Star.
More importantly, key voices in the locker room -- Wall, Beal, Nene, Andre Miller, Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Trevor Ariza -- endorsed Wittman's return. In fact, Miller, who had just completed his 15th seasons, said under Wittman he had never been more prepared for games in his career.
"I was proud of the way he micro-managed a lot of the egos and the personalities on the team. That's the hardest thing to do as a coach is to cater to 15 different personalities. He did a good job of that," Webster said after the season ended a few weeks ago. "Him continuing to believe in this team, put guys in position where they can help contribute the most. ... At the end it ended up getting us where we needed -- and more."
One of Miller's previous coaches, George Karl, still is a free agent who has long been considered a possibility to replace Wittman so that was saying something.
This isn't a honeymoon period as the Wizards have 10 players who are either unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or have team options in their contracts going into 2014-15. And just making the playoffs will no longer be enough to keep everyone in D.C., especially Leonsis, happy for long.