With his team struggling and the confidence of his players waning, Coach Randy Wittman decided to take a different approach for solutions to help the Wizards snap their season-opening 12 game losing streak.
Before Tuesday’s practice, Wittman looked around the locker room and let the rundown players lead the discussion about a season gone awry.
“He came in the locker room and began talking and said, ‘What do you guys feel?’ ” rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal recalled.
With the floor opened up, Martell Webster was the first player to stand and Beal said he told Wittman, “You can’t take responsibility for everything because you’re not the one playing.”
And from there, the Wizards let out all of their frustrations about confusion over ever-changing roles and responsibilities and about using schemes that maximize their strengths. Players have tried to stay relatively upbeat while quietly grumbling about lineups and rotations that change each game. They have to be prepared to play 25 minutes or not play at all. Wittman has relied a lot on his intuition, riding hot hands that quickly go cold and energy players who have already zapped out.
“It’s a good thing we’re doing that because it gets it off our chest,” Beal said. “We’re holding stuff in and sometimes you feel like, well, you can’t [challenge] the coach. You don’t feel comfortable saying it to him. But we actually got the opportunity to tell him what we need to do and how we need to do it, basically, and I think we’re doing a great job of getting that out.”
Wittman was pleased with the feedback and used their comments during the film breakdown and in what he called “a good spirited practice.”
Beal said the air-out session provided boost when the players finally stepped on the court. “Today was the best practice we had probably all year. We talked, we communicated. There was a lot of energy out there.”
The Wizards will host the Portland Trail Blazers (6-8) on Wednesday at Verizon Center and Wittman knows that his players can’t waste their time with a pity party. John Wall (stress injury, left knee) and Trevor Booker (right knee strain) were both unable to practice, but Nene (sore left foot) and Shaun Livingston (sore right shoulder) both returned after sitting out against San Antonio to deal with injuries.
“We gotta keep moving, fighting. The league’s not going to feel sorry for you cause you’re down 12 games. Only us can take care of that,” Wittman said. “It’s my job to prepare them to put them in positions that best suits them. They go out and play. I always want a dialogue with my players that … if they see things differently that can be done then they’ve got to speak up. They win the games. I did my job, my job is today, preparing them, getting them ready for the next game. Now they’ve got to go out and do it, so I want to hear their reasoning for if we’re not doing something the right way, is there a better way for them that they can see?”
The Wizards are league’s only winless team — the other 29 all have at least three victories — and also rank last in points per game (90), field-goal percentage (39.7) and point differential (minus-8.2). And, they are coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, a 118-92 beatdown against the San Antonio Spurs.
Wittman has consistently praised his players for their effort, especially on the defensive end, but he is seeking more consistency on the offensive end and better execution down the stretch of games. The Wizards have lost four games by four points or less, including an overtime loss in Atlanta and a double-overtime loss to Charlotte.
“We know what to do,” Wittman said. “I can stop the film and ask a player what he’s supposed to do as this play is coming up and he’ll tell me exactly what he’s supposed to do and then you roll the film and we don’t do it. Now you’re not going to play a perfect game, I totally understand that be we got to be more on the other side.”
Wittman has taken responsibility for the slow start, but Beal said his players remain behind him.
“He’s not the one playing. It’s up to us players to go out there and play together on both ends of the floor. Helping one another, talking to each other and making sure we’re on the same page,” Beal said, adding the Wizards have been pressing in order to get that first victory. “You see when we’re down the stretch we feel as though we have to get it. It’s right there in our hands and sometimes we do too much and we end up letting it slip away. It’s difficult. It’s just a matter of us sticking with it. It’s still a long year. We’re 0-12 but we still have confidence and faith in ourselves to make a run.”