With Ernie Grunfeld’s return as Wizards president set to be official on Tuesday, the next decision for owner Ted Leonsis — and now Grunfeld — is deciding who will be the coach going forward. Randy Wittman has gone 16-31 since replacing former coach Flip Saunders on Jan. 24 and the team has made strides in recent weeks, winning six of its past six games.
Before the Wizards thrashed the horrible Charlotte Bobcats, 101-73, to win their fourth game in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-15, 2007, Wittman was asked about his future with the organization.
“I don’t really worry about that,” Wittman said. “I’m a coach that’s going to go out, and I’m going to do the best that I can. Whatever happens with that, I’ve got great confidence, whether that’s a situation that continues on here or somewhere else. That’s all I can do, and that’s all the players can do. Be true to yourself. Work your tail off, and let the chips fall where they may, and these guys have done that. I’m proud of the fact that they’ve done that.”
At the very least, the Wizards (18-46) will finish tied with the second-worst record in the NBA behind Charlotte. But Wittman has continued to hold players accountable for their minutes. Kevin Seraphin has made significant strides and John Wall is under more control in recent weeks. Overall, the players appear to have responded to him and an Eastern Conference scout said recently that Wittman has managed to keep the Wizards focused on getting better even when there is little left to accomplish this season.
“He’s done a good job. Instead of just keeping us motivated, he kept himself motivated. It’s hard to come here everyday and lose like that, but he keeps on going,” Jordan Crawford said recently. “Gives us emphasis to work on and we take it and run with it. He make it so simple on us, it’s just easy to go out and play for him.”
Wittman certainly wasn’t handed a full deck, but he has made the best of a difficult situation. The Wizards have dealt with injuries for much of the season, and Wittman has fielded the youngest team in franchise history, with two rookies and three second-year players, this month.
“How do you adjust? Going through something like this always makes you a better coach. You’re ready for situations in the future that whether it’s injuries, trades, those situations arise, you either have learned a good lesson through it and know how to handle it differently, or you handled it pretty good and you know what to do when it happens again.”
With two games remaining, the Wizards remain intent on finishing the season strong and Wittman has repeatedly praised the effort of his players, even when they haven’t had much success. “I’m proud of the fact that we’re competing. We’ve won games against quality opponents coming down the stretch here, that are fighting for their lives in the playoffs. That means a lot,” Wittman said. “We’ve gone through a lot of injuries and a lot of roster changes and trades. It’s been a difficult year, no question, but one that I think that our guys have done the best through the circumstances.”
Putting a solid beatdown on the Bobcats on Monday and handing them their 21st consecutive loss meant a lot to Wittman. He was worried about his players getting overconfident against a significantly inferior opponent to even the Wizards.
“This is another step for our team,” Wittman said. “Because I was more nervous about this game than I was any game in the last month. It’s human nature. You don’t ever want to give a team that’s struggling an opportunity to breathe and right from the start, I thought our guys were into the game and going to jump on them like they did. We haven’t always done that and I was happy for the guys.”
Wittman admitted after the win over Charlotte that he is sad to see the season coming to an end with the team playing so well. “I’m always sorry. It really doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, this is our lives. When a season is over, that next week is always, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’ ”
This year, maybe more than others.