Five years later, the Wizards are vowing to take their time as they search for the organization’s 25th head coach in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that Brooks’s contract would not be renewed.
The prerequisites for a desirable candidate have changed somewhat, as has the potential free agent Washington is trying to keep happy. Bradley Beal, the 27-year-old building block of the franchise, is under contract through the 2022-23 season but holds a player option that would allow him to enter free agency next summer.
Beal has made it clear he wants to win — and win now — with the Wizards, a goal he shares with the front office. General Manager Tommy Sheppard made that clear when, after a first-round loss to the Philadelphia 76ers this month, he said Washington simply gracing the playoffs with its presence would no longer be good enough.
A new coach must be able to help elevate an all-NBA duo of Beal and 32-year-old point guard Russell Westbrook, at least for a year; have the patience, teaching acumen and vision to bring along a group of still-developing players; and — just one more thing — mend years of defensive lethargy.
“I would be very obvious to state that we have a very talented backcourt,” Sheppard said. “How can we take advantage? How can we make the game easier? Bradley Beal is usually seen with three [defenders] at all times when he has the ball. There’s triple teams, double teams everywhere he goes. How can we make his life easier? How can we complement him and Russell? Maybe some more outside scoring and depth, those kind of things. But those kinds of problems are going to be there no matter who the coach is.”
Helping the Wizards add outside scoring and quality depth is where a new coach can make an impact before he or she even steps on the hardwood.
Sheppard is eyeing the start of free agency Aug. 2 as the ideal time to have a coach in place, in part because a promising new coach could help shape Washington into the free agent destination it so yearns to be.
Logistically, that means the Wizards will head into next week’s NBA combine in Chicago, a networking bonanza, with a search underway. The draft, set for July 29, is generally driven by the talent evaluators populating the front office and not the coaching staff.
“Ideally, when you get into free agency, there’s an element that players would like to know who’s the coach, what’s their version, what are we about,” Sheppard said. “So August 2 is out there in a distant place, but I don’t like to get sped up. I think patience is a competitive advantage.”
Sheppard will be looking for someone with prime communication skills. The ability to collaborate also will be important because a new coach won’t be expected to control every aspect on the court.
“The days of one coach being the solution to every single problem that a team has is over. We recognize that,” Sheppard said. “That’s why you see a lot more reliance on an offensive coordinator, if you will, a defensive coordinator. I think everything starts with being a great communicator. … But the areas we’re going to look for, those are vision checks and our key performance indicators moving forward.”
A number of names the Wizards might consider had already cropped up in the hours between news of Brooks’s nonrenewal Wednesday morning and Sheppard’s news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Near the top of the list sits Denver Nuggets associate head coach Wes Unseld Jr., a familiar name in Washington not just because of his father — whom the Wizards and Mystics honored all season with a No. 41 patch on their jerseys after his death a year ago — but because he spent from 2005 to 2011 working as an assistant coach in the organization. Unseld has been in charge of Denver’s defense for the past few years. Philadelphia assistant coach and former Washington assistant Sam Cassell is also a potential name to mull.
Washington is expected to consider a wide array of candidates, including, potentially, one or more women. Former Boston Celtics assistant and current Duke women’s head coach Kara Lawson is from the area and knows the organization as a former Mystics player and Wizards television analyst. Longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and New Orleans Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon could also be options. Washington has had a woman on the bench before, when Kristi Toliver served as an assistant in 2018.
Sheppard stressed Wednesday that diversity is paramount to his search, however long it may take.
“I think we have a very disciplined approach to this; it’s going to be very thorough,” Sheppard said. “It’s going to be — I can’t say this enough — a very diverse, inclusive group of people that we’ll look at, and that’s in due time.”