What the Wizards need to succeed, Part III: Randy Wittman has to bring it all together

September 27, 2012

Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman (Reuters)

This is the third part of a series exploring how the Wizards can turn things around this season.

In his best season as a head coach, Randy Wittman won 39 percent of his games – and that was in Wittman’s first season with Cleveland in 1999-00, when his Cavaliers team featured a fading (or, rather, expanding) Shawn Kemp and a rookie point guard Andre Miller. That team finished 32-50.

In his second-best season as a head coach, Wittman won 36.7 percent of his games – and that was last season in Washington, when he replaced Flip Saunders and guided a Wizards team featuring a fading Rashard Lewis, an expanding Andray Blatche and a second-year point guard in John Wall to an 18-31 record.

In all, Wittman has won 33.1 percent of his games (118-238) in parts of six seasons in Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington. He lost at least 50 games in each of his three full seasons as a head coach.

That isn’t the most impressive track record, but it’s not like Wittman has crashed any Ferraris. In each situation, Wittman has stepped behind the wheel of  a clunker in need of repair.

After the Wizards did some necessary remodeling to their vehicle, Wittman now has a chance to continue what he started late last season while attempting to prove that the Wizards didn’t win their final six games – and eight out of 10 overall – as the result of some April fluke.

Wittman doesn’t like to compare players or teams, but does like the Wizards’ collection of talent for the upcoming season. The additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster and A.J. Price, combined with Wall, Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack, gives the Wizards a nice mix of veterans and youth, and players with professional attitudes.

After taking over for Saunders, Wittman was assigned with the responsibility of developing the young talent and showing improvement in the win column. He didn’t have very far to go as the Wizards sputtered out of the gate of a lockout-shortened season.

Wittman didn’t change much with regard to schemes and strategy and while his appoach was different from his predecessor, the results didn’t begin to show until Ernie Grunfeld changed the personnel by trading JaVale McGee and Nick Young and shutting down Andray Blatche. That allowed the Wizards to win 10 of their final 22 games and buy into what Wittman was selling.

The Wizards brought back Wittman in June because of his ability to connect to his players. He urged them to believe in their talents and held them accountable for lackluster efforts.

Now that Wittman has had a full offseason to prepare and has hired two of his own assistants in Don Newman and Jerry Sichting, the challenge for him is establishing his own style while incorporating new pieces.

Wittman plans to win by running and defending, but he will also need to find a way for the team to score consistently. For all of the moves they made, Beal was the only player acquired to provide scoring. They will likely take a scoring-by-committee approach, but there is still plenty of pressure on Wall, Crawford and Nene to carry the offense when it gets stagnant. 

With seven players in their rookie or sophomore campaigns last season, Wittman had a pliable group to work with and they were willing to follow orders, especially when there weren’t any opposing agendas in play. Those players are back with more experience this season, but the minutes they received last season, some by default, are not guaranteed now that Wittman will have more seasoned options at his disposal.

Nene and Wall appear to be the only locks to start on opening night, with Crawford, Ariza and Okafor holding the early leads to be among the first five announced. Managing minutes and dealing with egos is always a concern for coaches but Wittman will have to settle on a rotation even though the separation in talent at most positions – power forward/center, small forward and shooting guard – is not drastically different.

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Michael Lee | September 26, 2012