It is tough to look at Washington Wizards head coach and Randy Wittman and not almost feel sorry for the hand he has been dealt to start this season but the truth is, he is just as culpable as every player on the court.
To say the start to this season for the Wizards is brutal would be the understatement of the year. Washington is the last winless team in the NBA, has done everything from fall behind early to starting strong in games, but it does not seem to matter how they start, they seem to always end up losing. Rookie Bradley Beal is currently failing to live up to his top-five draft status and the team honestly does not look like it will be better when John Wall returns from injury.
One person who has escaped the firestorm for much of the season is Wittman. He has a lackluster roster, lacking in talent and the fundamental ability to win when it matters down the stretch in a game. His lack of accountability, with the fans at least, ended during Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz though. Fans by the players bench began the “fire Wittman chant” as their team limped down the stretch in a game where Washington blew multiple leads, including two six point leads and a 10 point lead to open the game.
It is hard not to feel bad for Wittman. After all what is he supposed to do with so little talent?
The answer to that is to play the guys who are making a difference and sit those who are not. Of all coaching points and quotes Wittman gave after Saturday’s loss the most telling was when he said he wanted to find balance in the team. Well, maybe he should look at how the team started, then he would see there was balance.
Now, I’m usually a hockey guy, so maybe this is a misconception I have about basketball, but I’ve seen a lot of guys play a majority of the game in the NBA and college. Because of that, it was shocking to me to see Wittman essentially sit all of his starters midway through the opening quarter following two days of rest and an 11-0 early lead. Yet, that is exactly what he did and, what do you know, the Jazz were only down a bucket at the end of the first.
Maybe it is self-explanatory or a part of basketball I have yet to understand, but I would imagine the players who got you the double-digit lead, should probably stay on the floor. Instead, there was the endless rotation of players off the bench who missed shots, caused turnovers and seemingly forgot how to play defense.
There is talent on this team, there is a unit that plays well together and they looked like they should have won against the Jazz, too bad those players were sitting on the bench.
Wittman does not have a lot of stars, but he does have to put the players he has in the best possible situation to succeed. He started to do that by switching up the starting lineup before the game, but with just about half of the first quarter gone, practically the same former starting unit was out there.
Now, Wittman could do the same thing tonight against the Indiana Pacers and win, but the chances are the outcome will be similar. If he truly wants to put a charge in the team by changing player roles, he truly has to change his coaching philosophy. Starting is nothing more than symbolic and to not start a player, but yet still play them in key situations, really accomplishes nothing in the long run.
The Washington coach is stuck between a rock and hard place with this Wizards squad. He is left with limited options in personnel until Wall is back on the court and even then it might not be much better. The best coaches make their money when the going is the toughest with a team. It does not get much tougher than this and Wittman is in a spot where he can really show Wizards management and the NBA whether or not he is fit to lead this team back to the promise land of NBA success.
Truth be told, the Eastern Conference of the NBA is one of the worst conferences in major professional sports and getting to the playoffs should not be a tall order, Wittman just needs to get out of his way to get there.
All this talk of “playing through it” and finding “balance” is great, but if what is preached isn’t practiced, it could be a long time until the Wizards get their first win. If they are victorious tonight, it will be interesting to see who Wittman looks at to carry the team down the stretch.