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Wizards Coach Randy Wittman ready for the next step

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In the nearly two months since they retained Coach Randy Wittman, the Washington Wizards have actively tried to assemble a team that will be much more competitive than its previous seasons as a lottery afterthought.

They have made additions through the draft with the selection of Bradley Beal, through a trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, through free agency by signing A.J. Price and through subtraction by using the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche. The moves have provided Wittman with the talent and versatility to experiment with lineups and establish a stronger defensive identity.

“I’m looking forward to camp,” Wittman said on Wednesday from Fairfax High, where he appeared at a Wizards/Mystics children’s basketball camp. “It’s going to be competitive. With our youth and the development that needs to be done, that’s how you accelerate it. When you’re going against somebody every day that’s going to push you, that’s going to make you better. What we’ve done looks good, now we’ve got to go out there and obviously play together.”

Wittman will start his first training camp as head coach of the Wizards in exactly two months, and the team arguably has higher expectations than any team since Ted Leonsis took over as owner and John Wall arrived as the No. 1 overall pick shortly thereafter. Leonsis has expressed his desire to be a competitive team, adding that he would be disappointed with another lottery appearance.

“You always want to believe in the playoffs. I think you’re always striving for that,” Wittman said. “That’s what you want. We want to take the next step and what we kind of did as the year progressed and Nene coming over here at the trade deadline and our improvement from the defensive standpoint.”

In a recent magazine interview, Wall, now the longest-tenured player on the roster, mentioned that he would like to be “the savior” to lead Washington back to the playoffs after a four-year drought. Wittman challenged Wall on the defensive end last season and has kept tabs on his progress this summer, as Wall trained with Team USA as a member of the select team and continues to work out in Los Angeles.

“This is a big year for John,” Wittman said. “John knows, I think, what is expected of him. The thing I like is, he’s embraced it and I think he wants it. Now, it’s a matter of him taking that next step in his game. And he’s put a lot of hard work in thus far and I’ve been happy with what I’ve seen in what he’s been doing. You always want your leader to want to step up to the plate and make that next move.”

Nene and Kevin Seraphin are representing Brazil and France, respectively, in the London Olympics and Wittman has been watching the games closely. He added that he wasn’t overly concerned when Nene recently mentioned that the plantar fasciitis in his left foot that limited him last season has flared up again.

“I’ve been in touch with him throughout it all,” Wittman said of Nene. “He’s been doing the right things. He’s been around long enough to know what’s smart and what’s not smart and I think he handled that pretty good. He said he’s feeling pretty good here since he’s been over there. So that’s a positive.”

With Nene, Seraphin, Okafor, Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely, Wittman feels he has interchangeable parts in the front court. He also feels that severing ties with Blatche was necessary.

“’Dray is a talented player and I wish him nothing but the best. I really do. It didn’t work out here,” Wittman said. “I hope and wish the best for ’Dray. And maybe this can be the best thing for him in turning his career back around and being the player I think we all think he can be.”

Wittman wasn’t ready to assign the starting shooting guard job to anyone just yet, but more minutes should be available with Roger Mason Jr. headed to the New Orleans Hornets after agreeing to a one-year deal. “Obviously, I know Jordan [Crawford], right now and who he is. Working with Bradley this summer has been good. I have an understanding. But you’ve got to earn things,” Wittman said.

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