Are you one of those observers who believes the Wizards need to explore other options for their coach, such as considering the unemployed likes of George Karl or Lionel Hollins? Think again. Key voices in this locker room insist they already have their man in Randy Wittman.
"Out of all of my 15 years, and I probably had 15 or 16 coaches too, that this is probably the best that I’ve been prepared going into games, going into playoffs," said Andre Miller, 38, who came in a Feb. 20 trade from the Denver Nuggets where he played under Karl. "It felt like the passion of the coaching staff filtered through the players and the players wanted to perform and work hard for the coaches. That says a lot just as far as the preparation. Guys took that to heart and went out and tried our best to work hard for the coaching staff."
When the Wizards struggled to a 2-7 start and stayed at or just under .500 for most of the first three months of the season, armchair observations were that Wittman didn't reach his players or that they'd tuned him out in the final year of his contact. One national analyst, Jalen Rose, speculated that Wittman would be the first coach fired.
Wrong. And more wrong. When the season ended, Mark Jackson was fired by the Golden State Warriors after a first-round playoff exit. Mike Woodson was let go by the New York Knicks who failed to make the postseason. The same goes for Ty Corbin of the Utah Jazz. Mike D'Antoni resigned as coach of the L.A. Lakers.
Wittman was able to rally the troops and get them to a No. 5 seed in the East with 44 wins and a second-round appearance in the playoffs. They pushed the Indiana Pacers, the No. 1 seed, to six games until being eliminated last week. It was the Wizards' first playoff berth in six years and the first in Wittman's eight years as a head coach in the NBA.
Much like when John Wall lobbied for Wittman to get the interim tag removed from his title when he took over for Flip Saunders in 2011, veterans who matter will be disappointed if he's not given an extension this summer.
"I didn’t know anything really about Randy Wittman other than he was a great assistant coach. Coming in here and having him lead us as a head coach, I think he did a phenomenal job," said Drew Gooden, who signed as a free agent Feb. 26 and would like to re-sign in the offseason. "He exceeded those expectations. The way we played defense towards the end of this year and how we all clicked shows what he can do when he has 15 guys all tuned in and buying into what he’s teaching. That’s definitely something you can build on. Being able to play under Randy Wittman is an honor for me."
Bradley Beal had a spat with Wittman and the coaching staff after a terrible overtime loss at home early in the season, but he's fully in Wittman's corner, too.
"I love coach Witt. .. He played my position so it’s easy to learn from him," Beal said. "Just the way he coaches, his attitude, his passion, and his energy is all for your benefit. He has that Bobby Knight-thing where he can jump on you but at the same time it’s for the best. I love him here. He did terrific for his first postseason. He showed his poise. … He’s definitely the reason he got as far as we did."
Nene, who lobbied for Wittman along with Wall a few years ago, was complimentary, too.
"He did amazing for it being his first season in the playoffs. His system is really good," Nene said. "I don't understand how people talk a lot things about him. I love his philosophy."