By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Ed Tapscott realizes that he is approaching his final two games as interim coach of the Washington Wizards. Having served in almost every role possible in basketball -- from player agent to front-office executive to broadcaster to scout to coach -- he has a full grasp of the challenges involved with each task. And none, he said, is more demanding than being an NBA head coach.
"It's number one because it's the most emotional," Tapscott said recently, "but it's also the thing that I've enjoyed the most. Of all these other things I've done in the NBA, I must say this has been the most enthralling."
That might seem hard to believe after Tapscott was thrust into what turned out to be a no-win situation on Nov. 24, when Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld asked his friend to replace Eddie Jordan, who Grunfeld fired after the team started 1-10.
Tapscott, then a player development assistant, had never coached in the NBA and hadn't coached, period, since an eight-year run at American University ended in 1990.
The District native also had to take over a team that was missing its most explosive offensive player in point guard Gilbert Arenas and its most valuable defensive player in center Brendan Haywood. What remained was a team that featured two former all-stars in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, some role-playing veterans and some not-ready-for-prime-time youngsters.
The result has been a 19-61 team that needs one more victory to avoid tying the franchise record for fewest wins in an 82-game season.
"Yeah, we've had a tough year, but I've seen progress in certain people and certain elements of the team," said Tapscott, who is 18-51 since taking over. "You learn to find enjoyment in the process, if not the results. One of the things I've learned over the course of the season is to become even- tempered.
"Despite the difficulties of the year, I have really enjoyed practice. I really enjoyed the effort of trying to improve and get to a certain point. I will say to you, managing an NBA game is as difficult a task as I've ever tried."
Managing players and personalities has also presented challenges. Tapscott has been criticized for relying too heavily on veterans such as Darius Songaila and Mike James and not providing more opportunities to develop for players such as promising rookie JaVale McGee and second-year guard Nick Young. But Tapscott remained focused on trying to win games and establishing a culture where nothing is given, and hard work and effort are rewarded.
"The young guys are going to get their opportunities," said Tapscott, who provided starting roles for second-year forward Dominic McGuire and 22-year-old Andray Blatche. "But they are going to earn their opportunities. Anything that's worth doing is worth doing well and is worth working hard to do. You've got to earn this."
Noted for his ability to communicate, Tapscott, an affable, walking thesaurus, said he always has been available to players, and has sought them out to discuss problems "if it was significant and deserved attention."
"If anything came up, he definitely did a good job of communicating," Jamison said. "He didn't beat us up. He didn't get too negative. He always tried to be positive with us. He treated us like professionals, treated us like men. I won't say it was always given back to him, the professionalism as players. That's why I say I think he's done a great job. He was just put in a bad situation."
Asked to reflect on the season, Tapscott said, "Getting wins against Cleveland [was] rewarding if you focus just on the performance side of it. I thought, generally speaking, we played hard, right down to the last couple of games. It's very, very easy to succumb to playing with one foot in the Bahamas and I think we've stayed pretty focused.
"The most frustrating thing? The number of losses that we have," he said. "There were games we should've gotten, but for a variety of reasons we did not. I take every last one of those seriously, I take every last one to heart. But you have to give up your failures after a while. You learn your lesson and then you've got move on."
Tapscott is expected to return to his former role or another position within the organization after this season, with names such as Flip Saunders and Avery Johnson leading the list of potential candidates for the coaching job.
"I have perspective of the wonderful privilege that has been given to me late in my career," Tapscott, 55, said. "I want to appreciate it as such. There are only 30 of these jobs. Whether we had great success or we didn't, it was truly a privilege to coach athletes of this level and to compete at this level."