“I’m still [upset] that they traded me,” Wittman said jokingly, almost three decades later, as the Wizards proved their commitment by signing him to a two-year contract that would allow him to stay on as head coach of the franchise.
Wittman said his return to Washington as an assistant under Flip Saunders three years ago helped bring his professional basketball career full circle, since the franchise was responsible for fulfilling his childhood dream of being drafted in the first round. He eventually moved one seat over on the bench and replaced his good friend after a 2-15 start last season.
In the nearly six weeks that it took from the end of the season to the official announcement of his return, Wittman said he didn’t allow himself to worry that he might be forced to part ways again with the District before he really had the chance to get settled in. He was under contract for next season, either way, and he was still performing the duties of a head coach.
“There was really no angst. ‘Why is it taking so long?’ Looking at it, that's what organizations do, they evaluate the situation,” said Wittman, who was 18-31 after replacing Saunders. “They hadn't told me I wasn't going to coach, so I just continued on as I normally would. Until that time came where they told me to hit the road.”
Despite connecting with the players, holding them accountable without discouraging them, and finishing the season by winning eight of the final 10 games, Wittman heard silence with regards to his future.
And the alternatives included more proven, bigger-name coaches such as Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, though, said that Wittman was the man the team wanted all along.
“After we took time to evaluate our situation, yes,” Grunfeld said. “I think continuity is important and familiarity is very important and I think Randy had that. These young players believed in him and he believes in them, which is very important. . . . As this process went on, it wasn’t a secret which direction we were going in.”
But the secret was under wraps to Wittman, he said, up until a few days ago, after owner Ted Leonsis publicly expressed at the NBA draft lottery that he was “very, very comfortable” with Wittman. The turning point in the evaluation process occurred two weeks ago, when Wittman finally had the chance to sit down face-to-face for a full day with Leonsis at his office at Verizon Center.
“He and I never really had a chance to talk the way we did,” Wittman said of the meeting. “You always want your owner and the people working under you to have an idea who you are and what your beliefs are and that was what my goals were going in there.”