Members of Wittman’s coaching staff know that he would often sit in his office, struggling to find ways to keep players motivated through the hardships, but inevitably, the same words kept rolling from his mouth.
“Just stay with it,” rookie Bradley Beal said, explaining Wittman’s message. “It’s annoying because he always says the same thing, ‘It’s close. It’s close.’ He always tells us, ‘Stay with it and it’s going to come’ . . . and it’s starting to come.”
The actual starting point of the turnaround is debatable — the day Wall started practicing, the day the Wizards upset Oklahoma City, or when Wall finally suited up after a three-month absence.
But over their past 19 games, the Wizards have won 11 and are now entering games expecting to win rather than wondering how they will lose. That mind-set is the result of more talent and healthy bodies on the floor, but also Wittman establishing the schemes and culture for it to all come together once his expected roster was finally in place.
“Since day one, he’s done a great job as far as leadership,” A.J. Price said of Wittman. “Records don’t indicate everything. Our schemes, our game plan, has been there for us, since the first day of camp. We just were lacking players. Once he’s got everybody back, you’ve seen how we’ve bought into what we’re doing on the court.”
The Wizards (15-36) will host the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday at Verizon Center for what they hope will be a more fulfilling 31-game finish than their miserable beginning. They have had low moments (a forgettable, franchise-record 0-12 start) and the occasional silver lining (upsets of Oklahoma City and Miami).
Through it all, Wittman kept searching for a group that would not succumb to the circumstances and would stay committed to a program that was not yielding immediate results. Wittman used 13 lineups in the first 33 games, either because of injuries or inconsistent play, but center Emeka Okafor said Wittman maintained his cool despite the constant tinkering.
“He hasn’t really ever got in panic mode. He just kept with the system. He kept doing what he did and as he got healthy, we got better. He did an excellent job of keeping spirits up and his confidence never waned. He’s a big reason why we’re here,” Okafor said. “A lot of that, too, is the type of guys that are here. Nene and I being vets and [Trevor Ariza], we’ve seen it all. We understand it’s never over. Even though it seems like, you’re out of it, in the NBA, just like you can be up 20 or down 20, it’s the same thing with records.”