Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards have some reason for hope in 2012-2013

Mike Wise
Columnist October 29, 2012

Perusing his cut-and-paste starting lineup for the Wizards’ opener in Cleveland, seeing his best players on the injured list, Randy Wittman felt like an impending victim in a “Scream” film, the oblivious teenager who just has to go upstairs and see what the commotion is about — even though everyone in the theater warns him of the danger.

No! Don’t! Stop! Run! The calls are coming from inside the house!

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Gar Heard and Leonard Hamilton didn’t listen. Neither did Doug Collins. Eddie Jordan looked like he was going to be the one surviving protagonist to stop the carnage, but the end was gruesome for him, too.

Flip Saunders? Yes, Randy, that was your friend in the wood-chipper.

“I don’t believe in that,” Wittman said, chuckling loudly from Cleveland via cellphone. “But if you got an exorcist, can you bring him over to the Verizon Center?”

The Wizards can be a ruthless coach-killer, a maddening and, for everyone but Jordan, ultimately unsuccessful experience in trying to construct an NBA playoff team.

Now the job falls to a hard-nosed taskmaster who isn’t afraid to hurt players’ feelings to get the desired results. In a season with seemingly much more upside than recent years, a season in which every player from the Gilbert Arenas years is gone, Wittman still can’t catch a break.

Nene, his starting center, hasn’t practiced with the team yet this season. John Wall, the starting point guard, is injured and out for at least another month.

Pop quiz: A.J. Price, starting point guard or bakery manager at Whole Foods? Martell Webster, Wizards’ small forward or Hewlett-Packard data processor?

Price and rookie Bradley Beal are the starting back court, with Trevor Ariza at small forward, Emeka Okafor at center and Trevor Booker at power forward. Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Jordan Crawford will get some playing time. Cartier Martin could also get some runs. Throw in Earl Barron, and “CSI” could not identify this roster.

Now the good news: Wittman has made friends with the monster. Yes, he actually likes this team. Likes their effort, their intensity. Everything. He likes his players’ willingness to treat the game as a privilege, not a right. He can’t say it, but he likes that JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young have moved on.

“As coach, you go through ups and downs but what you really want to know is: ‘What am I going to get on a consistent basis? Which guy is going to show up tonight?’ I haven’t had that feeling at all since I’ve been here and now I do. I know from an effort standpoint what I’m going to get. That is a big step in the right direction.”

For the first time in forever the franchise doesn’t have a cheesy slogan this season. But if it did, it would begin something like this:

“Your 2012-2013 Washington Wizards: Hey, We Got Rid of The Knuckleheads. It’s a Start.”

You can argue with team owner Ted Leonsis all you want about whether his be-really-lousy-before-we’re-good plan was the right idea for the NBA. You can’t argue with his commitment to changing the Wizards’ culture this offseason, when he paid Andray Blatche $23 million to go away, find another club that might be able to light a fire under his lackadaisical behind. That was a huge step toward legitimacy.

“The things we did needed to be done,” Wittman said. “We needed to make a change. Ted stepped up to the plate and did that. I think it’s good for this team and community that we did that.”

Wittman isn’t on a short leash, having signed a contract extension after Nene and Wall vouched for him in face-to-face exit interviews with Leonsis.

Once Kevin Seraphin returns, maybe as early as this weekend, and Wall and Nene rejoin the roster, then this Wizards team can be judged — for better or worse.

Are they playoff-caliber? No. Not yet. They have the potential to make a significant improvement on last year’s record. But this season will mostly be about finding out who is worth a long-term commitment and who is not, making fans believe in the effort put forth by the millionaires on the court and taking the next step in the third season of Ted’s five-year rebuild.

Oh, and surviving the guillotine. Never take that for granted. Wittman doesn’t.

“Hey, I’m surviving this hurricane right now. So I’m prepared for the worst. I always am.”

For previous Mike Wise columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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