Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld both showed up on Monday at Verizon Center for the news conference to announce that Wittman was returning wearing navy sport jackets and light blue ties. The clothing choices were probably coincidental but it was hardly awkward since the two appeared to be on the same page, even as the Wizards moved at the pace of a tortoise toward consummating the union.
Coaches aren’t usually brought back after going 18-31, but the Wizards weren’t expecting to contend for a playoff spot last season and would have to jump at least six other teams to earn a shot next season. The goals for the Wizards are to get better and Wittman and Grunfeld both believe that the organization is moving in the right direction.
They spoke about the decision and the future of the franchise for about 20 minutes. Here are some of the highlights:
Wittman on his reaction to coming back: I’m excited with what transpired, toward the end of the year, the changes that we made and the trades and the people that we’ve added and development of our young guys. I’m really pleased to have an opportunity to continue to lead this group of guys and really look forward to full summer, a training camp, and obviously heading into the next year and the direction that we all feel this team’s headed in, is the right one and a good one. I owe a lot to these guys for trusting in me to continue to help this team continue to get to where we want to get.
Grunfeld on why the Wizards brought back Wittman:Randy made the players accountable. Role definition was very clear. Every player knew what his role was and how he was going to help the team win. He held them accountable for that. If they weren’t doing what the team needed him to do, Randy would talk to him about it, but at the same time, he wouldn’t take their confidence. He would try to teach them in a positive manner.
Wittman on his meeting with Ted Leonsis last month: He and I never really had a chance to talk the way we did and spend a day together. Him listening to my ideas and what my ideas of this team moving forward are and me listening to his ideas, obviously, of how he wants to try to do things here to get us both to the common ground that we want to get to. It was very comfortable, setting, obviously, being here and knowing Ted prior, made it a relaxing day that we spent together. You always want your owner and the people working under you, to have an idea who you are and what your beliefs are and that was what my goals were going in there.
Grunfeld on whether late-season push helped Wittman: It wasn’t just about that. It was really the whole body of work. I thought from the very beginning, our players played the right way. We were learning how to win. We lost of lot of close games because we didn’t know how to close out and we learned that as we went along, Our defense improved the whole stretch that Randy coached us, and I thought that was a big part of what I wanted to see. And our young players developed. They got better. They played with more confidence. They played the game the right way. They passed the basketball and if they didn’t, they were held accountable. At the same time, they didn’t lose their confidence.
Wittman on whether he considers this his last shot: You learn. You’re always learning. If you stop learning, then you need to get out of the game. I’m always trying to become a better coach. Trying to become better tomorrow than I was today. I’m a basketball junkie. I’m a lifer. I’m not going to take anybody’s job in the media. This is what I’m going to do. When I’m done doing this, I’m done working. I never look at it, this is my last chance, this is my last opportunity. When it didn’t work out the other two places, I came back the other two places as an assistant. I want to be around the game. That’s kind of who I am.
Wittman on whether the third time could be the charm as a coach: All three jobs were really a lot different in terms of where we’re at. Injuries played a part in one of them, more than anything else. Minnesota was when the Garnett era changed and it was shifting, we had a lot of young guys and the growth of that. It’s similar to this, but we’ve made changes in the middle of this year, that puts this team that’s not just a bunch of young guys, but it’s important that we keep that mixture of veterans that are a part of this, because we saw, how valuable it was, for the growth. I think it helped our young guys grow, to see guys that’s been in the league handle themselves the way they did and learn from that.
Grunfeld on Leonsis declaring that the team won’t trade No. 3 pick: We do what our owner says. You never say never to anything, but in all likelihood this is a player that will be with us for many years to come. And this could be a really solid piece to what we’re trying to build. We think this is a really good draft. And we’re going to get a really good player at that position.
Wittman on what the Wizards need with the third pick: Talent. We’re going to get a good player at the third pick and we also have got two second-round picks. We’ve got to increase the talent level on this team. We’re not where we want to be from that standpoint, so we’re going to get that, at the third pick.
Wittman on John Wall’s improvement: Everybody’s focused on his shooting. That’s going to be critical. For him to develop his shot, mainly, his confidence in his shot. If you don’t play with confidence, it’s hard to be good at anything you do. That’s the main thing with John is getting him comfortable in what we’re trying to do in terms of repetition, repetition. This summer he’s already been hard at it and that develops your confidence and you see it in people throughout the course of the NBA, that couldn’t shoot when they came in and just continued to work at it. So obviously, John’s got to continue to do that and continue to grow as a leader of this team. He’s got to continue to grow in terms of grasping hold and being the leader that I thought I saw emerging from him. He showed me things that he was doing at the end of the year that you never know a point guard is going to be able to do and John started showing that, and to me that’s huge. So that’s got to continue, as well as the other things we talked about from a basketball standpoint.
Grunfeld on how this offseason will be different: We’ll be able to work with our players this summer. Last summer, we had the lockout, we weren’t able to have any contact. We weren’t able to work out and we had so many young players, so that’s going to be a difference and having a full training camp and having Nene for the whole year, is also going to be a big plus for us. We still have a lot of work to do. We know that and we have to build on some of things we improved on last year.
Wittman on whether the Wizards should expect to win next season: We’ve just got to continue to grow. As a coach, you don’t look at a number or something of that nature. We’ve got to continue to take the positive steps that we did, I thought, the last four to six weeks. And the growth of this team and the growth of them growing together. You could see it - there was not the disconnect anymore of maybe, individuals trying to do things for themselves. It was a transformation of guys playing together, moving the ball. As Ernie said, I thought the biggest step that they took was defensively and if you watch the playoffs now, that’s what it all boils down to. When you get to this point of the season and you want to build a foundation right now because sometime we want to be there. When is that going to be? You never can put a timetable on that. But I want the team to continue to take the positive steps. I thought they were able to take at the end of the year. That’s what you shoot for.