Like Scott Brooks did last year, the man who replaced him as coach of the Wizards, Randy Wittman is enjoying and making the most of his first season out of a job in the NBA in many years.
“I was in the NBA for 33 straight years without a break, so my wife calls this a sabbatical,” the 57-year-old Wittman told ESPN 980’s Kevin Sheehan on Friday, in one of his first extensive interviews since being fired after the Wizards missed the playoffs last season. “I’m visiting teams. I’m watching other coaches and what they do in practices. It’s given me an opportunity to travel around and see it in a different angle than I’ve seen it up to this point.”
Wittman, who still has a place in the D.C. area, has also gotten around to having hip and knee replacements that he’d put off while coaching. He’s spent time watching Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau, Los Angeles’s Doc Rivers and Boston’s Brad Stevens run practices, and yes, he still keeps up with the team he coached for the last seven seasons, including four-plus years as the head coach.
“Obviously, when I’m in town here, it gives me that opportunity to see them up close,” Wittman said of the Wizards. “I think they’re one of the best teams playing right now in the league. The streak that they’re on is really good. … They’re just shooting the ball so well. Obviously, John [Wall], getting healthy, John likes to play and John doesn’t miss many games, but we knew when he missed the last five games of last year when we were fighting to get into the playoffs that he was hurting pretty bad. I think getting himself healthy was huge, because he’s gone to another level of play. You can tell in his legs and his spring how that has really helped him.”
Wall, who underwent surgery on both knees during the offseason, is enjoying the best season of his career. He is averaging a career-high 22.8 points and 10.6 assists per game and will play in his fourth consecutive all-star game on Sunday in New Orleans.
“John is, I think, he’s the best point guard in the league right now, the way he’s playing, and that’s just not his numbers,” Wittman said. “He’s seeing things on the floor that nobody else can see, and you can’t teach it.”
The Wizards enter the all-star break with a 34-21 record, two games behind Boston for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and five games behind Cleveland. Wittman said he thinks the Wizards are a legitimate contender in the playoffs and he doesn’t expect Washington to make a major move before Thursday’s trade deadline.
“I think they match up well with anybody in the East,” Wittman said. “Right now, you only have three consistent teams really. Cleveland, and who knows what’s going to happen there with [Kevin] Love missing the next six to eight weeks with his knee surgery. Coming back from that, is he going to be the same? That game that they played here, which I think was one of the best games that I’ve seen this year, and Love was really the difference-maker in that game, I thought, in hitting the three and spreading the floor as he did. Now they don’t have him. It’ll be interesting to see, is LeBron [James] going to have to play more minutes and get worn down? So, they’ve matched up decently with them. … Boston, they match up well against. And Washington, those are the three teams that really I think are head and shoulders above everybody else.”
Wittman was 178-199 in Washington and led the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. Beset by injuries, including to Bradley Beal, the Wizards finished 41-41 last season. Sheehan asked Wittman if he has any regrets about his time in Washington.
“You look back, and that’s how you get better,” Wittman said. “If you’re not, if you’re saying you did everything right, you’re not going to become a better person, coach, father, it doesn’t matter what it is. There’s things in life that you learn and you try to improve upon, and I’m doing that. I do that every year. I don’t have any regrets of my time here. Listen, when I came here and took over, it was a mess. We were floundering and we were able to right the ship, as I like to say, and get it moving in a good direction. We had a bump in the road last year, I think, and if we would have stayed healthy we could’ve continued that moving forward. But to get this team where it was when I took over and then to get them back to back to the second round of the playoffs, and again, you look back and from a health standpoint, if John doesn’t break his hand and miss those three games against Atlanta, do we get to the Eastern Conference Finals [in 2015]? … Last year was last year. You sit back, you look, you try to grow from it, and that’s what I’m doing.”
In an interview with NBA.com last week, Wittman indicated that he’s interested in possibly getting back into coaching.
“I’m in between jobs,” he said. “Early spring when things begin to open up, I’ll take a look at what’s out there and see if I want to get back in it.”