When a team with playoff aspirations gets off to a disappointing start, the scrutiny always seems to find its way to the head coach. Coach Randy Wittman likes to say that the NBA is “a results league” but with the Wizards (2-7) on a four-game losing streak, he hasn’t concerned himself with checking the temperature of his seat on the bench.
“That’s not a worry of mine,” Wittman said after Monday’s practice at Verizon Center.
Wittman is in the last year of his deal and owner Ted Leonsis has stated that he expects finally to see his team reach the postseason. And after the Wizards lost, 103-96, in overtime last Saturday to Cleveland, a person with knowledge of the situation said that Wittman’s job is not in danger. That could possibly change, however, if the team continues to struggle.
“That’s one thing I don’t like. At the end of the day, we’re the ones playing. You can’t throw that on coach,” Bradley Beal said of Wittman. “I mean, he’s making the strategy, he’s making subs, and it’s up to us to go out there and execute, play and have fun. I really dislike and hate when people throw all the scrutiny on coach, because he doesn’t deserve it. I mean, he’s doing his best job and it’s up to us be able to carry some of the weight and take some responsibility as well.”
On Tuesday, the Wizards will host the improved Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4), who are run by former Wizards coach Flip Saunders – the man Wittman replaced in January 2012 – and former Wizards executive Milt Newton. The next five games are against teams with losing records: Cleveland, Toronto, New York, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee.
In parts of seven seasons with Washington, Cleveland and Minnesota, Wittman has a career record of 147-291 (.336), which is the worst winning percentage of the 87 coaches with at least 400 career games. Wittman is 49-91 with the Wizards, but John Wall was among those who lobbied for him to get an extension after the 2011-12 season. Wall continues to support Wittman.
“Everybody believes in Coach Witt,” Wall said. “We understand what he did last year and what he was capable of when everybody is healthy. So we know what he tells us as coach, what his schemes is and what he tells us players works, but us players have to go out there and execute what he’s given us as our game plan and what he wants us to be as a team and we haven’t been doing that so far. We’ve only proved it in two” games.
The Wizards were without Nene for losses against Philadelphia and Miami, and Trevor Ariza recently went down with a strained right calf, but the team has been in relatively good health. Wittman, though, has been unable to find a consistent rotation and recently said that he is “searching” for a combination of players that can get him some reliable production. The team has already utilized four starting lineups.
Wittman said he doesn’t have any sense that the players aren’t responding to him and his staff. “I’m not going home thinking [that]. We don’t have to reinvent things. We have to do things more consistently. When we’re doing them consistently we’re pretty good. We’re in that spot, over and over every game, whether on the road or home.”
The Wizards are 1-3 in games in which they led or trailed by at least five points with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“I think it’s really between our ears, being mentally there because coaching strategies are working,” Beal said. “I think we’re pressuring ourselves too much. We’re trying to win, win, win, instead of just relaxing and letting the game flow. I think when it’s pressure time, the last two minutes, the last three or four minutes in the game, it’s like, ‘Aw man. We can’t make mistakes.’ You can make mistakes but you just have to make sure you’re aggressive and playing the right way. Sometimes we get tight and that’s when the mistakes get noticeable and that’s when we start getting down on ourselves and just a bunch of things start happening. As long as we stay focused and just stay calm and poised, we’ll be fine.”