Here are some quotes from today’s news conference announcing the firing of Flip Saunders
New Head Coach Randy Wittman on whether he takes accountability on Saunders’s firing: This is a black mark on all us, absolutely. Everybody has their own beliefs and philosophies how to do it. Flip, the reason, I think Flip and I have been successful together throughout the years in the NBA is because we are kind of polar opposites and you have to have a staff that’s mixed like that. Strengths and weaknesses of the staff are just as important as strengths and weaknesses of the players. I’m not here, running against [Republican presidential nominee Mitt] Romney. I’m not getting any votes here. I’m not looking for votes. I’m looking to get this team going in a positive direction. If I’m telling the fans, I’m here today because I believe this team is better than where we are right now. That’s all I can say. It’s not a popularity contest. If you don’t win games, you’re not very popular. If you win games, everybody loves you.
Wittman on what he plans to change: Tempo is number one. Everybody can talk about running. What is a running team? It’s more to me, tempo. I think when you look at our team, last night in particular, the stinkers that we’ve had, John Wall is walking up the ball the floor, going head to head, five on five, 85 percent of your possessions. Our team’s not made that way right now. We don’t have the big bruiser inside to throw the ball to, to create double teams, to slug it out, at this point, so tempo has to increase. Make or miss. Now, with that, also comes the restraints of understanding, it’s not running wild, which John sometimes has a tendency to do, he’s got to learn and we’ve got to teach him, there’s a certain ways to run after a make as there is on a miss. Our tempo of getting into things has to be quicker. It can’t be methodical. That’s night, every time I looked up, it almost felt like our shot-clock situation was at zero. That’s a process I think that we are. Youth and athleticism. So we have to use that a little bit more, not only offensively, but in a defensive concept.
Wittman on how he’ll be different than Saunders: I’ve got to be me, number one. I’ve coached in this league with a number of different teams. It’s not an easy transition. I’ve done this before. I’ve been on a staff and have taken over in the middle of season. I know what it’s about, what change needs to happen to try to make this a positive situation. Is this a happy day? No, by any regard. A good man walked out the door today, and it’s always hard. I didn’t come here to Washington to be the coach. I came here to help him.
But as I’ve met with a couple players today, I told them, I would’ve walked with him if I didn’t believe that this team can be better than what we are. There’s got to be change. We have to change. I’m not the miracle maker here. We’ve got to change our outlook on how we play. Sometimes when you have such a young team, players get a little confused I think when the word ‘development’ is used, that they are going to be able to develop with just playing. Development happens in the practice floor. You have to earn what you get out on the game floor. And sometimes, what you think is because I’m young, they’re just going to throw me out there and let me develop without any reward for those minutes being given to you.
You have to, I believe, prove that you deserve to be on the floor and continue to develop. We have to develop these kids, there’s no question about it, but there becomes a point where if you know that you’re going to be out there, you’re going to play whatever way you want to play. I think that has to change a little bit. Are we going to develop these kids? Absolutely, that’s a major job and we knew that coming into this year.
That does not change. But we can’t have a situation where you’re competitive for three games and noncompetitive for three games without effort. I told the guys, we’re young. Are we going to make mistakes? Yes, that’s how you learn as a young player and become a veteran. To go from a good player to a great player. You make mistakes along your way, and you learn from them. We can’t make mistakes half-heartedly. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it going all out. I can live with that. I can live with that and walk out to fight another fight. I can’t live with it if you’re going out there and going through the motions knowing that I’m a young guy and they’re supposedly supposed to develop me, and I’m going to get this time no matter what kind of effort on the floor. That’s got to change. We have to change that as coaches.
The players are going to have to change. That’s something that they’re going to have to do, and as I told a few players, that’s why I’m here today. If I didn’t think this team had any positive ahead of it, I would’ve walked, too. I believe that this team does have a lot of positive, and that we can compete at a higher level more often, night in and night out. That’s what I have.
Wittman on holding players accountable: If they are not playing the right way, why are you going to play them? You have to understand the right way to play. I think that’s where you run into, ‘I’m tired now. I’m not going to go and deny this pass.’ If you’re not going to deny a pass when you’re tired, that tells me, you’re not going to play when you’re tired. So you’re coming out of the game. You don’t get to play through that. I didn’t say these young players, we got eight of them, someone is going to have to play. They are going to play. I’m talking about learning how to use those minutes in the proper way. They are going to play and if they don’t play, then they are not learning how to accept that or not willing to accept that. and that’s part of this whole process. Which young guy do you move on with the future, which one don’t you. They tell you that. They tell you that. Right now, we might have gotten…I’m part of it, absolutely. Somebody asked the question. We got to the point where they just kind of play knowing they are going to be out there 38 minutes. We have to have guys that when they are on the floor, they are on the floor, because they are playing the right way and they are trying to do things the right way and that’s with a lot of heart and effort and when it goes the other way, and we have guys, when they get tired, it’s over. It’s my job to put another young guy in there, that’s not tired.
Wittman on Wall’s reaction to trade: I spoke to John. John’s a big part of this. John has the ability to be a very, very good player. John has to now, take what he has and not just think it’s given to him. He is a talented player that I think I need to coach and he has to be willing to be coached and if he does that, that’s when good players become great players. I played with one of the best in Isiah Thomas. And he was one of the best, because he was one of the toughest and he was the one that Chuck Daly or Bobby Knight was on constantly and hwen you use your best player in that regard and you use them, and John’s not doing it the right way, I guarantee you, other people will follow. And that’s what we have to try to get in a coaching situation. This isn’t brain surgery. We just got to learn to play the right way every night.
Wittman on retaining other members of coaching staff: Yes. We have a good staff. We have a staff that works extremely hard and well together. I want those guys there. That only helps you. If this is an older veteran team that’s been through the wars, you don’t have to do that as much. I don’t think, you can’t prepare too well. That’s what you’re trying to do with these young guys and I think we’re on top of it, in terms of electronically and allow our players at their finger tips to take advantage of. That’s going to continue.
Wittman on being a midseason replacement again: I actually didn’t take Flip’s place in Minnesota. Kevin McHale did. The main thing I think I learned the first time, this is even more magnified because of the condensed schedule and playing so many games without practice time. We just got to simplify things, No. 1. as a coach, when you take over, you have a lot of ideas, with maybe how you would do things as a coach, but you can’t flood these guys with information overload. We’ve got to make it simple, what I think is two or three things, we’ve got to really concentrate on, and take baby steps from there. We had a day off today, we play tomorrow, Friday Saturday and we have to use our time in a timely manner, but going htrough it a time before, knowng that you don’t want to give them too much information, do too much change.