Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman didn’t come out and publicly proclaim that this is a “playoff or bust” season for the franchise. But the pressure to produce a team that plays meaningful games in late April doesn’t have to be expressed to exist.
With training camp set to begin on Saturday at George Mason, the objective is clear. And during a 21-minute joint news conference on Wednesday at Verizon Center, Grunfeld and Wittman both expressed their optimism for the upcoming season, even with defensive anchor Emeka Okafor out indefinitely with a neck injury.
Wittman said he doesn’t expect to have any limitations on Nene, who spent most the offseason resting and getting healthy, and plans to move the Brazilian big man over to center in Okafor’s absence. Grunfeld refused to say which way he was leaning with regards to the fourth-year options for Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, but added that Singleton’s broken left foot complicates the decision-making process.
Here are some of the highlights of the interview session:
Grunfeld on expectations for upcoming season: “We’re excited about the upcoming season. We finished last year off strong. Obviously, our young players have worked hard in the offseason. They’ve shown improvement and we want to build on what we started to establish last year. Obviously, our initial goal is to be a playoff contender and ultimately, by the end of the year, make the playoffs.
Wittman on his expectations for Kevin Seraphin: “I have high expectations for all of our guys coming in. Do I have expectations for Kevin to have a better year than he did last year? Yes. Bradley [Beal], I’d like to see step up. I see, where Bradley is today and where he was last year at this time is night and day. He was scared…last year at this time, as Otto [Porter] is right now. So Kevin was a little bit like that, his confidence level now, and how he holds himself now, being here pretty much all summer working on his game to make that next step. Yeah, I expect that from our young guys to continue that growth. I think we saw it with Jan. Jan had a good summer, whether it was just with us in the summer league or what he did, playing with his national team. You know, those are positive things and you hope that now they can carry that over into the season.”
Wittman on how John Wall’s growth as a leader: “I think you guys know that answer. I think we saw what John means to our team when we didn’t have him last year and compared to when we did have him. It’s a very important part. And I think we showed that this summer with signing him to an extension. And I’ve seen a difference already after that. I think he understands the role he’s in now, the expectations that come with that, and he’s a guy that wants that. That’s the good thing. He’s not a guy that wants to shy away from being more of a leader, being more of a guy that’s going to lead us and try to inspire us to be the best that we can be. And John has really jumped on board with that, even since signing this extension. So I’m pleased with where John is. John was here. He was here basically from Aug. 20 on, here in D.C. working, and that’s always an encouraging thing when you see that. He’s embraced it.”
Wittman on the areas where Bradley Beal has grown: “A little bit of everything. I think defensively, he knows, he’s got a tough job. I think that’s more of a mental thing for him now. Going through a year that he went through and put under his belt, whether it’s a [Dwyane] Wade, he’s going to guard scorers. In our league, at that position, most guys can score. It’s just a mental thing. I think he has that understanding. We’ve really put a lot of work this offseason in him, from a standpoint of growing and being able to handle the ball and put the ball on the floor more…I think he’s put a lot of hard work in and we’ll see, hopefully starting Saturday, how much improvement he had there.”
Grunfeld on meeting offseason goals: “I think we had some goals of what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to upgrade our backup point guard position and Eric [Maynor] has been with us now, three weeks in a row. He’s very solid, very steady. He brings a little poise to the game. He knows how to play. So we feel we’ve upgraded that position. We wanted to get a stretch four and Al [Harrington] will provide that for us. And we also wanted to make sure our young players continue to develop. Our young players, like Seraphin and Vesely, as Randy just spoke about, and Bradley Beal. I think one of the things that Brad also did was improve his ball handling, and try to play better in the pick and roll. He worked on his body and is outstanding shape. As all of our young players are. So, we wanted to see improvement from within and we wanted also address some of the positional needs that we felt like we had and I think we have. And I feel like the continuity of having 11 players back from last year’s roster will also help us.”
Wittman on maintaining continuity: “We’re going, as a coaching staff, the last two or three weeks, evaluating how we want to conduct camp, and it’s so much easier when you’ve got … 11 that understand why we’re doing things, how we’re going to do things. That makes it a lot easier in my mind, in terms of evaluating how much you throw at them and how they handle it and all that. So that’s a positive. We established ourselves from a standpoint defensively, and that’s not going to change. That’s got to be first and foremost as we head into camp, that foundation that we built and that they built. They bought into this system and that system won’t change. They know what that system is already compared to last year with as many new faces as we had, that you had to teach that new system. That’s always a positive.”
Wittman on expectations for Otto Porter: “Expectations are what they are for any young guy in our league. And you have to gauge where he’s at and how he handles certain situations. It’s a lot like, I’m going to view Otto a lot like I did Bradley last year. I didn’t look at Bradley any differently than I’m going to look at Otto. I’ve got to see how he progresses. What he can handle and where he’s having problems at and adjust your coaching that way. It’s tough to say right because of the limitations that he had in summer league, the strain with his hamstring, having a full understanding mentally as well as physically, what he can handle and what he can’t, but that’s just kind of how I judge all these young guys coming in. They’re all different and you have to gauge what their differences are, and you kind of see that as you move forward.”
Wittman on what he saw from Jan Vesely this offseason: “Just confidence. That’s the main thing. And it’s nothing more than that. And obviously continuing to develop and work on his game, which we’ll continue to do and which he’s done throughout the summer. It’s really believing in himself and going out and playing with that confidence and not letting anything affect his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the floor. That’s the main thing. I think we saw a lot of the good of that this summer. And that’s what he’s got to now carry over. You miss a free throw, you miss a shot, you miss a block out — play through it. Next play, move on. And he’s going to do something good to overcome that. That’s what I saw this summer.”