The Wizards changed their uniforms before last season, but they have significantly changed the players inside those uniforms in the past 10 months. Seven players signed for this season were not on the opening night roster last season, when the Wizards finished with the NBA’s second-worst record.
The new cast of characters has made Randy Wittman optimistic about what’s ahead during his first full season as head coach. But he won’t get too far ahead of himself, though the team appears to be better than the one he took over when he replaced Flip Saunders last January.
“You don’t win any games on paper. That’s all we’re looking at right now, you guys are writing it down, and I’m reading it, and it looks good on paper,” Wittman said. “Nothing wins on paper. We’ve got to be able to now transform that into a team concept and go on the floor and prove that this is a good mixture.”
Training camp officially starts Tuesday but most of the players have already been working out at Verizon Center for the past month. Nene is unable to participate but he has been showing up for regular treatment on his injured left foot. Wittman said the Wizards won’t have any other injury concerns, but mentioned that John Wall has been dealing with bursitis and that Emeka Okafor has a dislocated finger.
“Nothing right now that I’m sitting here today being alarmed about,” he said.
In a 30-minute news conference on Wednesday, Wittman discussed what it would take for the franchise the next step – from the development of John Wall, the health of Nene, and a commitment to consistency on both ends of the floor. But after saying back in August that “you always want to believe in the playoffs,” Wittman left the P-word out of the conversation except when discussing players with postseason experience.
Here’s more of what he had to say on several topics:
On John Wall: “This is a big year for him and its time to take the next step. It’s his third year he knows the ins and outs if what to expect. . . . He’s done a lot of those things this summer to try to make that happen, work ethic being a big part of it. It just doesn’t happen. You have to be willing to put time, effort, it doesn’t matter who it is, John Wall, Okafor. I’ve seen a lot of that this summer that I’ve been pleased with.”
On the Wizards’ style of play next season: “It ain’t going to change. We’re going to be an up-tempo team with the ability to play inside-out. I think all of our bigs have the ability to get up and down the floor. We don’t necessarily have in our bigs plodders, so to speak, so you need to wait for them to get back down the floor to be involved, so we’re going to continue to take that advantage, long as we have John. . . . I’m a firm believer in fitting what I want to the talent I have instead of sometimes the other way around. I just don’t believe that. I believe we don’t all have the talent that we want but you’ve got to mold it to what you do have and put them in a situation that puts them at their strengths more than their weaknesses and I think our strength is still our ability to get up and down the floor.”
On possibly being a surprise team: “I don’t want to surprise anybody. I just want us to believe in ourselves. That’s what we have to do. We have to believe we can do this, that we can make that next step. But I’m not worried about surprising or sneaking up on anybody else. I think as the year went on last year, I think teams saw the change in us. I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody. We’ve got teams in the East that have made improvement, some that may have slid a little bit so. It’s always the same when you start, when you’re starting with great optimism of what we can do, but it’s got to be a belief for our kids, our guys, that we’re going to go out and get this thing done and make that step upwards that I think we needed to make.”
On his expectations for the upcoming season: “I’ve never been one to be able to label, everybody throws out the 50-win thing. How in the world are you going to guess you’re going to get 50 wins? I don’t care if you’re the Miami Heat, there are too many things that can go on, that can derail that. I’ve never been one to put a number on it, but we’ve got to make a step in that direction, in terms of, I keep using the consistency of winning and then that develops as you move on.”
On Bradley Beal: “I’ve been impressed. Now summer league and NBA play are two different things and we all know that. But he has put in the time and effort. He’s a diligent worker. [That] solves a lot of problems. Now he’s going to have some ups and downs. Are they going to be early? Are they going to be mental? Are they going to be late? I can’t answer that question until we get into the flow but he’s a very confident kid, one that I don’t think is going to be intimidated by being the third pick and now stepping in and being part of a nucleus of moving forward and trying to take that next step.”
On Beal battling for the starting shooting guard battle with Jordan Crawford: “Obviously Jordan has been here, had got a little bit of an advantage right now. . . . I always think guys that know what to expect have a little bit of an advantage moving in. The guys that have been here especially after I took over as the head coach I think have an understanding of the dos and don’ts on what I want not only as an individual but as a team.”
On how he plans to use Nene and Okafor: “Obviously with Emeka and Nene we’ve got guys that have been around the block, have been to the playoffs, have been on good teams, understand what it takes to do those things. Nene has the ability to play multiple positions. He can play the four, he can play the five. We have a team, I think, with the additions that we’ve added, that is versatile, that can play a lot of different spots, which makes it nice for me. I’m a big proponent of that. When you put a team together, the more versatile you become with players playing multiple positions I think only gives yourself an opportunity to have more and more minutes.
On Kevin Seraphin: “We saw great progress in Kevin last year. I was really happy for him because he had to wait. It wasn’t all of a sudden, as he came into the league, it all kind of happened for him. Again, it’s all about confidence. He was able to go out the second half the year and play with confidence. That’s the biggest thing that you have to have. You have to have confidence at this level, or you’re going to struggle. You can’t play at this level without confidence, but Kevin made great strides.”
On the mental toughness of his team: “The people that we’ve got now in that locker room, from a professionalism standpoint and from both on and off the floor, is going to help our guys tremendously. In this league, you’ve got to have the ability as a player, if it was easy for everybody, we’d all be winners. You have to try to figure out and get players that when it does become uncomfortable, when it gets tough, that you dig a little bit deeper and you don’t say, ‘Well wait a minute, I’m getting paid a lot of money here, this is getting tough. I don’t need any of this.’ We need to have those guys that when it does become tough, when it does become comfortable, they’re not asking the whys, they’re becoming tougher themselves and digging deeper.
We’ve made that part of our team better through what we’ve done and that makes you a winner. That’s the edge. A lot of these kids that come into the league, they are hearing one thing, ‘Man, it’s great, you’ve made the NBA, you’re going have a lot of money, you’re going to have a big house, you’re going to have a lot of cars.’ Nobody tells them how hard it’s going to be. How difficult it’s going to be. You don’t hear that. So they don’t know. It’s not a knock against any of them, it’s just they don’t hear those things.”