The Washington Wizards could’ve been in the market for a new head coach this summer, and probably could’ve come away with a reputable one. Fresh off their best finish in over 30 years, the Wizards elected not to go the summer search route. Instead, Washington retained the man who helped them to that finish and rewarded Randy Wittman with a new three-year deal. Despite several players singing his praises during exit interviews, Wittman came under the gun often by fans at times during the team’s struggles over the last few seasons, compiling a 47-84 record during his first two years.

The Wizards broke through this season, winning the most regular season games (44) since their 2004-2005 campaign. Washington battled injuries at times this year, forcing some uneven play, but when the team was healthy they performed at a high level that lasted well into the postseason.

Wittman’s career coaching record inspires nausea, sporting a .367 all time winning percentage. But to Wittman’s credit, he’s never had the type of talent he had on this season’s Wizards club, squeezing the most out of an inexperienced team to a respectable finish. While he’s lacks a popular name, Wittman has quietly changed the focus in D.C. over the last few seasons, turning an undisciplined squad into a stout defensive unit. Point guard John Wall and small forward Trevor Ariza finished in the top five at their positions in steals. And the team finished inside the top 10 through the regular season in points allowed before finishing first in that category in the postseason, allowing a paltry 89 points per game.

Wittman’s fingerprints have been all over the remodeling of the franchise since he took the reins from Flip Saunders as an interim coach in January 2012, two years after the team drafted Wall. The Wizards drafted shooting guard Bradley Beal the same summer as Wittman’s arrival. The maturity of those two, plus Wittman’s growth, resulted in an impressive campaign. Retaining Wittman gives some stability to the young backcourt, which could also help entice a marquee free agent to the team this summer.

General Manager Ernie Grunfeld has been both viciously and wildly criticized for a series of mistakes during his Washington tenure but keeping Wittman could prove a smooth move. If the club adds a piece or two in the offseason, Washington should be a lock for another strong finish next season, behind Wittman’s coaching.

It might not have been the most blockbuster move, but keeping the coach who helped rebuild this team goes a long way to establishing stability to a franchise that’s been a laughingstock over the last few seasons. Washington’s set up nicely with a talented backcourt but it’s the defense-minded coach that has the team on an upward swing going into the 2014-15 season.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO