May 2, 2016

The End Of An Era

What a couple of weeks to take off from blogging about the Washington Wizards. After a disappointing season where expectations were high and continually dashed by lackluster play from seemingly everyone except John Wall, someone had to pay the price. And that someone turned out to be head coach Randy Wittman, who I have blogged about in pretty much nothing but glowing terms. There's a reason for that: Randy is by far my favorite Wizards head coach since I became a season ticket holder. In case anyone cares, here's my list.
  1. Randy Wittman (2012-2016)
  2. Eddie Jordan (2003-2008)
  3. Ed Tapscott (2008-2009)*
  4. Doug Collins (2001-2003)
  5. Leonard Hamilton (2000-2001)
  6. Flip Saunders (2009-2012)
* Number 3 by default because he was assigned to the position. Tell me I'm wrong. You can't really.

I think Randy lasted way longer than most people thought and way way longer than most fans wanted. Before you get too "I told you so" about wanting Randy fired, go back a paragraph or so and check out the names at the bottom of the list above and tell me you would rather have them than Randy at the helm of your team. I know you can't and please, don't kid yourself about Doug Collins. He was awful. There's nobody other than 1 and 2 above who did anything approaching an acceptable job in Washington.

Randy was handed the reins to the Wizards in January of 2012 after the team fired then coach Flip Saunders after a 2-15 start. He lasted four full seasons beyond the one he was hired into. In a job that is inherently temporary, that's pretty good. While Randy held the top spot in D.C. there were 49 coaching changes in the NBA. 49!!!!!! In a little less than five seasons. Admittedly not all were firings. Some resigned, some were just not re-hired and one died. But most were canned.

Want to know who's been part of all this? In alphabetical order...Rick Adelman. Bernie Bickerstaff. David Blatt. James Borrego. Jim Boylan. Scott Brooks. Mike Brown. Kaleb Canales. P.J. Carlesimo. Maurice Cheeks. Doug Collins. Tyrone Corbin. Mike D'Antoni. Vinny Del Negro. Larry Drew. Mike Dunlap. Derek Fisher. Lawrence Franks. Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins. Jeff Hornacek. Melvin Hunt. Lindsey Hunter. Mark Jackson. Avery Johnson. George Karl. Jason Kidd. John Loyer. Mike Malone. Kevin McHale. Nate McMillan. Doc Rivers. Flip Saunders. Byron Scott. Paul Silas. Keith Smart. Tom Thibodeau. Stan Van Gundy. Jacque Vaughn. Paul Westphal. Monty Williams. Mike Woodson.

I know what you are thinking. That's not 49. Nope, it's 44. That's because Mike Brown, Tyrone Corbin, Mike D'Antoni, Larry Drew and Lionel Hollins could have been on the list twice. Randy outlasted them all. He also outlasted four coaching changes each in Brooklyn and Sacramento. And you think the Wizards are messed up.

My Randy Wittman signed basketball, in its place of honor next to my mini Verizon Center.
But enough negativity. I genuinely loved the Randy Wittman era. But I can accept that it's over and I hope it only gets better from here. I get that the player rotations at times weren't that great and the offensive creativity wasn't stellar sometimes (despite the fact that I agree with Randy that offense really wasn't our issue this year), but I appreciated Randy Wittman's tenure with the Wizards and give him a lot of credit for sorting a complete mess out and making it better. Here's what I'll remember.

He brought defense and accountability to a franchise sorely needing both.
I think I read an article once that Randy asked when offered the job if he would have the front office whispering in his ear about playing certain players on the roster when he took over the team. He was apparently assured enough to agree to sit in the head chair and then proceed not to play JaVale McGee and Nick Young when they were not inclined to play hard or smart. He also exiled Andray Blatche after JaVale and Nick were traded away. And I mean exiled. Told him just not to come back. The next time Dray showed up at Verizon Center he was in a Nets jersey.

On the defensive side of the ball, he took a team ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency (which measures points surrendered per 100 possessions) the season prior to being named head man and turned them into a squad ranked 8th, 9th and 4th in his first three full seasons. Those teams could D-up, which you couldn't have said about too many Wizards squads in the last few decades. And that translated to wins. It's way easier to play offense than defense. Just ask James Harden. Randy got our guys to believe.

He was always straight with everyone.
There are some coaches in professional sports that you rarely get a straight answer from. Bill Belichick comes to mind here. Right or wrong, Randy was not that guy. He always talked openly and honestly about his thoughts on the team's performance and called people out candidly and (mostly) objectively, although I'm sure Marcin Gortat might have a thing or two to say about the word I put in parentheses earlier in this sentence. Basketball is not that complicated a game and there's no need for a head coach to mince words about performance or strategy. Randy is so committed to freedom of his own speech that it cost him $20K a few years ago. Old school, all the way! I love it.

I also love that Randy was completely candid with me when I bumped into him at National Airport when heading out to Summer League in 2013 and asked if I could ask him some questions. I've talked to Ernie Grunfeld before when I've had the opportunity and that guy gives up nothing. It's like trying to get information out of a stone wall. Randy was the opposite, giving me insight into the team openly and honestly, although I'm pretty sure the stuff he told me about Jan Vesely he should have kept to himself. Sometimes the best leadership calls for not being completely transparent.

He is the Wizards / Bullets all time leader in playoff win percentage as a coach.
Do I need to say much more than this? It's both a comment on the job Randy did in his time here and how sad the history of this team is. I get that the sample size is really small but he's number one in this category. He had a winning record in both postseasons.

I've always thought it takes a different leadership skill set to lead people in times of crisis vs. times of prosperity. To me, Randy Wittman did a great job stabilizing the Wizards team and franchise and he achieved some phenomenal success relative to the history of the franchise. But it appeared that was only going to get us so far. And this week saw the beginning of the Scott Brooks era. I hope he can duplicate his success in Oklahoma City right here in Washington. At least he's a credible coach who has taken a team to the NBA Finals. I applaud the Wizards for that. Brooks is already number three on my favorite Wizards head coaches of all time list and he hasn't conducted a single practice.

I still have all my Randy Wittman basketball cards. I'm not throwing those things away after the money I shelled out for them. I'm also not taking my signed basketball off my shelf. Maybe one day, but not these next few months for sure. Job well done, Randy. I hope you are proud of the work you did here. I sure am.

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