The Washington Wizards are in the process of completing a contract that will keep Coach Randy Wittman with the team for at least next season, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. For weeks, the Wizards have been noncommittal publicly about bringing back Wittman but a lack of aggressiveness with so many big name candidates available has spoken volumes about their plans.
“I think it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen,” a league source said, “but nothing is official.”
The same source intimated that something could get done by early next week, with an official announcement to follow.
President Ernie Grunfeld said on Wednesday that he liked the job Wittman has done and that a decision would be made regarding his future “way before the draft,” which will be held June 28. Nothing has been agreed upon or signed with Wittman, according to multiple league sources. And, a person with knowledge of the situation said that the Wizards’ intentions hadn’t been fully expressed as of Thursday night to the person with the most at stake in the decision – Wittman.
“Randy’s under contract,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said after the draft lottery, “and right now, he’s our coach.”
With the NHL’s Capitals making a run into the second round, Leonsis wasn’t able to spend any time with Wittman until a meeting last month. Leonsis had no relationship with Wittman because the two never interacted after Wittman replaced Saunders during the lockout-shortened season. Wittman went 18-31, but the team was 11-14 after completing a trade with Denver for Nene. The Wizards were 7-4 with Nene in uniform.
Wittman has a career record of 118-238, including previous coaching stints in Cleveland and Minnesota. Leonsis was prompted to meet with Wittman after John Wall and Nene, among others, expressed their support for him. Wittman brought more discipline to the team, shut down Andray Blatche because of he was out of shape, and held players accountable for their mistakes.
“To a man, everyone thought that Randy did a fantastic job,” Leonsis said. “So that gave me confidence that I should interview and I had a quality day with Randy. And we’re still talking through some things and I feel very, very comfortable that when Nene has been around and a John Wall, both say this was a coach that treated us the right way, respected the game and we listened to him.”
With the season completed more than a month ago, it appeared that the Wizards were stringing Wittman along, but they didn’t interview other coaches while he was still under contract. That didn’t necessarily mean that they had no interest in looking elsewhere.
According to a league source that has been in contact with the Wizards, the team would’ve been more inclined to go outside of the organization if Wittman and his entire staff hadn’t been under contract for next season.
Wittman and assistants Don Zierden, Sam Cassell, Gene Banks and Ryan Saunders all signed two-year extensions before last season to match up with former Coach Flip Saunders. The Wizards held the option on the fourth year of the $18-million contract Saunders signed in 2009 – an option that obviously didn’t need to be used when Saunders was fired on Jan. 24 after a 2-15 start.
“It’s completely a money decision,” the source said.
The terms of the contract being discussed were not disclosed, but Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the two sides are finalizing a two-year agreement.
Wittman is expected to be retained at a price much less than proven available coaches Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan likely would’ve commanded – and two sources added that the team was not very high on Mike D’Antoni because they didn’t believe the former New York and Phoenix coach would demand enough discipline.
The Wizards were also burned the last two times they made a huge investment in a big-name coach, with Saunders going 51-130 after having considerable success in Minnesota and Detroit, having reached the conference finals four times. Eddie Jordan had led the Wizards to the playoffs four consecutive years but was also fired nearly four months after he signed an extension with the team in 2008.
Grunfeld and Wittman were in Minneapolis the previous two days, where representatives from nearly 30 teams are scouting players at Target Center during workouts in preparation for the draft. Wittman maintains an offseason residence in Minnesota. He is also expected to be in Chicago next week for the pre-draft camp to watch drills and meet with many of the top prospects.
Reports had been surfacing this week about the Wizards’ intention to retain Wittman, including a recent ESPN.com article. And with little movement to the contrary – especially with proven coaches such as Van Gundy, Sloan and McMillan and sought-after assistants Mike Malone and Brian Shaw on the market – it was impossible to refute the sentiment of most league executives and agents that Wittman would be coach next season.
All signs had been pointing in one direction. Now the Wizards are almost there.
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