While Randy Wittman and the Washington Wizards were able to agree to terms on a three-year contract extension this week, there’s still one deal that remains unsettled between the head coach and his players.
In an effort to loosen up his group of players, Wittman allegedly told the Wizards that if they beat Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, he would dunk the ball. While Washington did indeed follow through on their end of the deal by eliminating the Bulls, Wittman’s debt remains outstanding due to some terms being lost in translation.
“It was not a dunk attempt; it started as touching the net,” a grinning Wittman said during Wednesday’s news conference. “As we all know, or as you all know, (Marcin Gortat) can take things from a publicity standpoint and take it over the edge, and it became a dunk. So there’s got to be a compromise here. I could hardly dunk when I played. I told Marc that, and I don’t know where he got that I could dunk the ball, we’ll get a good trampoline down for that.”
Wittman’s hops may be questionable but following the Wizards’ 15-win turnaround and run to the Eastern Conference semifinals this past season, few can question his ability to help his team rise to the occasion.
Wittman’s failures as a head coach of Minnesota, Cleveland and Washington are well-documented — at 191-329 (.367), he still holds the worst record of anyone who has coached at least 400 NBA games — but there’s a reason why Wittman has always been the head or assistant of a coaching staff in every season since 1992.
During his stops in Indiana, Dallas, Minnesota (three times), Cleveland, Orlando and now Washington, Wittman has coached the likes of Reggie Miller, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Shawn Kemp and Dwight Howard. These experiences have helped mold Wittman into a demanding, honest coach who has a sound gauge for what makes each of his players tick.
“I just enjoy coaching, enjoy being around these guys on the basketball court,” said Wittman, who was actually drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1983 before being traded to Atlanta that same day. “So when both stints in Cleveland and Minnesota ended, I wanted to get back on the court, whatever that capacity that was and if that meant going back to being an assistant, that was fine. And that’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve never really looked at it as ‘Am I ever going to get another shot again?’ I just want to work. That’s what I did and the opportunities have arisen because of that.”
Wittman knows that a different attitude must be taken when it comes to the Wizards as a team. The window for contention that opened with this past season’s playoff run won’t be open forever. John Wall and Bradley Beal won’t be young forever and players come and go, as the Wizards may find out should they not be able to retain Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza or any of their six other free agents this summer.
Wittman’s re-signing was the first and perhaps easiest move in extending the momentum built for last season’s 15-win turnaround and Eastern Conference semifinal appearance. What happens next remains to be seen but regardless, there’s no escaping the elevated expectations.
“You never know what happens next year, but I think the players feel internally that we accomplished something and there’s more to be had,” Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Wednesday. “They were eating some good stuff and they want some more. They got a taste of that and that’s what it takes. It’s a process and it doesn’t happen over night, and this is the first time for this group to get the playoffs and feel the added pressure of the playoffs.”