After getting off to a league-worst 2-15 start in the shortened NBA season, the Washington Wizards fired head coach Flip Saunders on Jan. 24 and replaced him until the end of the current season with assistant coach Randy Wittman.
Wittman said he’s not going to be able to work miracles with the young team and the players will have to change their outlook on how they play if they want to turn their fortunes around. He said young players can’t develop their skills just from playing games and they need to concentrate more on practicing them during training sessions.
The axe fell on Saunders after Washington lost by 20 points to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before, giving the Wizards a road record of 0-7. Club president Ernie Grunfeld said the coaching change was made because he didn’t think the players were responding to Saunders and a different voice needed to be brought in. He said it was his decision to make the move, but Ted Leonsis, approved of it. Leonsis, who also owns the NHL’s Washington Capitals approved of the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau from the hockey team back in November.
Grunfeld said the club’s objectives are still the same since they want to build the team up through the draft, develop them properly, and create some salary-cap space. He added that the current players haven’t developed as fast as the club had hoped and that needs to be worked on. Grunfeld and Wittman said the team needs to play a quick-paced running game when they’re on the offense and use more defensive tactics.
At the same time, they said some of the team’s young players need to realize that minutes on the floor aren’t guaranteed, they need to be earned. Wittman reasoned that if players know they’re going to be playing no matter how poorly they may perform, then they’re not developing properly. He said there’s always some tough times related to a rebuilding process and that’s what they’re going through now, while they’re trying to build a solid foundation.
This was Saunders third season as the Wizards head coach and he leaves with an overall record of 51-130. He previously coached Detroit and Minnesota, and reached the conference finals in 13 years. When he took the Wizards job in 2009 the club had some solid players in All-Stars Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Gilbert Arenas. The club is starting over now though and is trying to build around point guard John Wall, who was the top pick in the 2010 NBA draft. However, Wall doesn’t have much of a supporting cast.
Wittman said Wall’s a talented player, but he needs to be coached properly and also needs to be willing to be coached because that’s how good players are transformed into great players. Wittman also takes some responsibility for the team’s woes and their 23-59 record last season. The Wizards have only beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder and the woeful Toronto Raptors this season after starting it with eight straight losses, with half of those being by at least 18 points.
Wittman has had two previous head-coaching jobs, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota and has a career record of 100-207, so things might get a lot worse before they get better.