Nearly a month after the Wizards concluded the regular season, the team has still been extremely quiet about its plans for Coach Randy Wittman.
A source with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking recently described the situation as “an ongoing process,” adding that the team has no timetable to make a decision. Wittman and his assistants are still under contract for next season, lessening the urgency. But the silence – and lack of aggressiveness in pursuing other potential candidates – has raised speculation amongst agents and rival league executives that they all will be brought back.
A person who has spoken in recent weeks to President Ernie Grunfeld said “reading between the lines” from their conversations left the impression that Wittman would be retained. The person added, however, “Hey, I could be wrong.”
According to multiple league sources, Wittman was in Washington last week and recently had a face-to-face meeting with owner Ted Leonsis. A source that confirmed the meeting was unsure if it was a perfunctory get-to-know-you session or a formal interview. Leonsis often sat near the Wizards’ bench during games, but never had the chance to sit down with Wittman after he replaced Flip Saunders on Jan. 24.
Wittman went 18-31 after taking over the team and several players – including John Wall – expressed their support for having him return for a full season. The Wizards made considerable progress, especially on the defensive end, after acquiring Nene in a trade deadline deal and finished the season on a six-game winning streak. They were 11-14 after the trade and 7-4 with Nene in uniform.
When asked about Wittman’s future last month, Grunfeld said, “I think Randy’s done a very nice job with this team. The players have responded to him.”
Grunfeld has already met with Leonsis to discuss his strategy with regards to a coach, according to a league source, but his recommendation so far has been kept under wraps. Wittman and his assistants continue to operate business as usual. Assistant coach Sam Cassell recently watched playoff games and scouted point guards Chris Paul and Mike Conley with Wall in Los Angeles.
When the Wizards’ season ended, Leonsis turned his attention to the NHL’s Capitals, who were eliminated in the second round and watched Dale Hunter step down the next day. Leonsis now has to make a decision on coaches for two of his franchises.
Several big name coaches are on the market, including Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan, Jerry Sloan and Stan Van Gundy. McMillan, who was fired last season in Portland, has already interviewed with Charlotte and Sloan, a former Baltimore Bullet who hasn’t coached since stepping down from Utah two seasons ago, has expressed an interest in interviewing for the Bobcats vacancy.
Van Gundy was fired this week after a successful run with the Orlando Magic that included a trip the NBA Finals. D’Antoni resigned after failing to mesh with Carmelo Anthony in New York but he has had success with point guards, from Steve Nash to Jeremy Lin. Both coaches have hinted that they would be willing to sit out at least a year before returning.
Golden State Warriors assistant Michael Malone and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, whose team is still in the playoffs, are also expected to attract interest from teams looking for a head coach. Shaw, a hot commodity after working previously under Phil Jackson in Los Angeles, recently stated that he wouldn’t speak to teams until the Pacers are eliminated.
As reported earlier, the Wizards have no financial commitment to Saunders beyond this season. Saunders signed a four-year, $18-million deal in 2009, but the final year had a team option. Saunders is currently working with Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics as a consultant during the playoffs.
Wittman is the fourth coach the Wizards have had since Grunfeld became the general manager in 2003. Saunders is the only coach Grunfeld hired, with Eddie Jordan in place when he arrived and Ed Tapscott and Wittman both filling in as mid-season replacements.
The NBA draft lottery is next Wednesday in New York and the Wizards have a 19.9 percent chance of claiming the No. 1 overall pick.
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