The NBA is changing. And the Wizards appear to be changing with it.
Even during the playoffs — when the Wizards so often relied on a small-ball lineup, with either Paul Pierce or Drew Gooden playing the stretch 4 — Randy Wittman seemed loathe to talk about that changing offensive approach.
“You always want the inside dealings,” he told a reporter who asked about that approach. “You want us to get you a locker in there so you can just come in there and sit? He wants the inner workings of us so we can print this out to the world of what we’re thinking and why we think. Listen, we did what we did. We saw what we thought was the best way to play, and that’s what we did.”
The season is long over now, and Wittman seems more ready to talk about what was obvious in the spring. Which is why the coach told 106.7 The Fan’s Chad Dukes that one of the pieces he would like to add in the offseason would be a stretch 4.
“We would like to add a couple pieces. I’m not gonna lie about that,” Wittman said last week. “We need to solidify our bench a little bit more. We were a little bit too much up and down from our production off our bench last year, so I’d like to add a piece there. You know, I’d like to maybe get a little bit better at the stretch 4, the shooting 4. We have to be able to play with those teams like Golden State.
“Obviously that’s what everybody points to: whoever wins the whole thing,” Wittman went on. “That’s what you’ve got to try to [look at]; I do, anyway. As a coach, that’s where I want to get, so I’ve got to figure out how do I beat a team like Golden State, and what do we have to do to get there?”
That topic was a major theme of the past Wizards season, with fans and media members protesting Washington’s old-school approach during the regular season. The issue got a wider audience when ESPN the Magazine gave Washington a low rating for its use of analytics, based largely on its coach.
Owner Ted Leonsis protested, writing that ESPN’s work was “a bit random.” During the playoffs, Leonsis told The Post that he “didn’t really understand [the criticism], and I mean that sincerely.
“I read it and I just said, ‘I think that’s because our coach is not driven by PR,’ ” Leonsis said.
But Wittman’s conversation with Dukes last week would likely satisfy most of his critics, whether it’s PR or not.
“Our league’s changing a little bit,” Wittman said. “You know, it’s becoming a more position-less five guys on the floor, rather than 10 years ago, [when] it was a definite 1-2-3-4-5 and you were labeled like that. Now we’ve got to be able to play small if we have to. I like what we’re able to do when we have to go big, and you’re still gonna have to. You know, Chicago’s a very physical team. They’re in our conference. We’re going to have to be able to deal with them, and I’m really comfortable where we are from a standpoint of being a physical team. And I think we have to have the luxury to be a little bit more flexible the other way, also.”
What Wittman actually did with his team in the playoffs matters more than what he says during an offseason interview. But this fits into a longer narrative, with Wittman indicating after the season he wants to pursue that approach next season, and Leonsis arguing the same.
“You do have to play with the personnel that you have,” Leonsis said after the season. “Paul Pierce did go to the power forward-kind of position but there’s no way Paul Pierce could have done that for the season. That’s just a very, very tough position to play….They share with me the game-planning against each of the teams going into the Toronto series and going into the Atlanta series. And what the reports showed, the staff implemented.”
Of course, Washington’s small-ball options will be more plentiful if Pierce returns to the team (and to his postseason role) next season. And in that matter, the coach sounded optimistic in his radio appearance.
“You don’t ever know obviously until that decision’s made, but everything’s been great,” he said. “End-of-the-year meetings, talking to him here after the season, I think he was really pleased with the situation that he walked into here, what he was able to help with this team, the future of this team and where we’re headed. I think those are all great positives. I feel very positive that we’re going to be able to have him back in the fold next year.”