The Wizards are close to reaching an agreement with Coach Randy Wittman that will allow him to build upon the franchise’s surprising playoff run, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. Yahoo! Sports is reporting the deal will keep Wittman with the organization for the next three seasons.
Nothing is imminent but discussions have progressed, according to a person who was not at liberty to publicly discuss the negotiations. Wittman was confident that he would return after completing a season in which he led the Wizards to 44 wins, the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and the organization’s first playoff series win since 2005.
“Until they stop asking me for my opinion on players, free agents and drafts, then I’m not worried about it,” Wittman said last week, when asked about his future with the organization. “I’m not ready to retire if that’s what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re going to see me somewhere, whether it’s here or who knows.”
After a news conference on Tuesday to announce a new general manager and coach for the NHL’s Washington Capitals, Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis told NBC’s Dianna Russini that Wittman deserved to remain head coach.
Leonsis stated that before the season that there would be no excuses if the team failed to reach the postseason. Wittman was able to exceed those expectations while helping former No. 1 overall pick John Wall to make the all-star team for the first time.
“I thought the coach did a very fine job for us,” Leonsis said in the interview. “We’re sitting down and talking to Randy and his people. Randy did a very fine job. We did all the exit interviews. I’m finding that doing some of the exit interviews are a very good process for us. You learn lots of stuff. The players respected the coach and they played hard for him. I think he deserves the opportunity to come back and lead us even deeper in the playoffs.”
[Related story on D.C. Sports Bog: Leonsis says Wittman ‘deserves’ more time]
Wittman took over for Flip Saunders in January 2012 and has guided the Wizards through a dramatic roster transformation. He gained the support of his players by holding them accountable and turned the Wizards into one of the league’s better defensive teams.
Washington ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in each of Wittman’s full seasons in Washington. Last season was arguably more impressive, considering the Wizards were the only team in the top third of the league defensively that failed to make the playoffs and won just 29 games.
“I think he’s done a heck of a job this season, with what he’s done with this team and building guys and getting us to be one of the best defensive teams in the league where we used to didn’t play no defense,” Wall said. “Used to be run, shoot, do whatever and it look like you’re lost sometimes, but he did a heck of a job. For him to be kind of on the hot seat, not knowing what could happen, and being in a contract year, just like some of the players, I think he did a great job of sitting back and running this ball club.”
Though he still holds the distinction as having the the worst winning percentage (.367, 191-329) of any NBA coach who has worked at least 400 games, Wittman had to take over as a mid-season replacement in Minnesota and Washington. His also stumbled in his first two seasons in Cleveland but would only need to go 12-15 in the first 27 games next season to surpass the next-worst coach – former Washington Bullets great Wes Unseld (.369, 202-345)
The Wizards were Wittman’s most talented team and he led it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“That’s the thing I’m most pleased with – we set out to put this team in the playoffs and they did that,” Wittman said. “They accomplished the goals that they wanted. Now what do we do from here is the next thing. Not so much proving anything. It’s satisfying to see your team come out and express what they’re trying to do and then getting it accomplished. Now we’ll have to adjust that moving forward and see this group. That’s the most gratifying thing for me is to see them collectively having an understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish and then getting it done.”