As bad as Randy Wittman was, the Wizards' problems run even deeper. Firing the head coach is a start, but there's much more to address in D.C.
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There's a special kind of hopelessness that comes with rooting for a team with a terrible coach. Every game is a reminder that you have no control. Then eventually you realize that forfeiting the leverage you do have—watching the games, caring—is part of the problem. It's all like a stupid, pathetic sports version of life under a corrupt government. You stay because it's home, but until everyone starts leaving, or throwing rocks, nothing will change. But none of this matters today, because let me tell you: I FEEL FREE.
Scott Brooks? I'm ready.
Jeff Hornacek? It was all Robert Sarver's fault.
Sam Cassell? I'm doing the dance as I type this.
Tom Thibodeau? Mr. Thibs goes to Washington, let's get Jimmy Butler, too.
Mike D'Antoni? Likely a bad idea for everyone involved, but it doesn't matter.
Nothing matters. Today, there is no pain.
Randy Wittman was fired by the Wizards on Wednesday. It's taboo to celebrate anyone's downfall this way, but sometimes diplomacy is misplaced. Wittman certainly believed that. It was only a year ago that Wittman was berating a reporter for asking why his team had been ready to play John Wall with a swollen hand the size of a basketball. (Wall was reluctant—the hand was later revealed to be broken in five places). There have been other outbursts like that throughout the years, at reporters, players, and others. This has been the leader of my favorite team for almost five years.
None of it would matter if Randy Wittman was a good basketball coach, but he was not. He was capable as an interim coach, and hired full-time at least in part because he was affordable. He was later extended because his players were too good to lose to a dying a Bulls team, and management was too shortsighted to envision a day when his shortcomings would cost everyone. As soon as that extension was signed, even the commenters on Woj tweets knew how stupid it was.
He was smarter than he gets credit for, but always deeply uncreative, and quick to blame his players. He was a disciple of Bob Knight in a league that's now dominated by Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr. I'm glad he's gone. I do not feel bad.
Sometimes it makes sense to look for nuance when leaders move on, or get nostalgic, but not today. Randy Wittman was a goon.
The Wizards should regret holding onto him as long as they did. In fact, they actually deserve more blame than Wittman. This is a team that hasn't won 50 games in 37 years—the people in charge should know better by now. There has been talent cycled in and out of D.C., and it always ends badly. Shaun Livingston, the role player extraordinaire who played for the Wizards before joining the Warriors, called Washington "one of the worst spots" in the NBA, and noted a "lack of structure from an organizational standpoint."
"It was a situation where we wanted to go in a different direction," Wittman said, explaining why they cut Livingston to sign Garrett Temple.
When pressed for more on what he meant, Livingston told the Washington Post, "It’s tough to elaborate without really going overboard."
This is business as usual in Washington. It will not change until some rocks are thrown, so here are rocks. Ownership has done a terrible job investing in the infrastructure it takes to succeed in the NBA. It's the opposite of what's happening in Boston. Likewise, this Joe Lacob article was ridiculous for many reasons, but he's right that the Warriors have sought out smart people who are innovative and collaborative, and that has helped them build a culture that succeeds across the board. What team does Shaun Livngston play for again?
If nothing else, the Wizards could invest in an upgraded, innovative training staff. They could invest in a training facility, too, but they wouldn't do that until the city of D.C. would pay for it. They could invest in better assistant coaches, but when Sam Cassell was offered more money to coach with the Clippers, there was no counter–offer. Half the reason Wittman lasted as long as he did was because nobody on the Wizards staff was capable of replacing him.
If nothing else, they could add some new management. Ernie Grunfeld is not bad at his job, but he's not good enough to justify the blind faith that he's been given to him for close to 15 years. He's among the longest–tenured executives in the sport, on par with Danny Ainge, R.C. Buford, and Pat Riley. And Grunfeld is not Danny Ainge, R.C. Buford, or Pat Riley. He's a basketball lifer who is good at finding clever ways to fix a shorthanded roster, but bad at building a roster that's not shorthanded to begin with.
On that point, it's not fair to compare any team to the Warriors, but the parallels to the Wizards are undeniable. One team drafted Jan Vesley, the other took Klay Thompson a few picks later. One team drafted Draymond Green, and the other team, with fans screaming to draft Draymond Green, took Tomas Satoransky, a rookie who wouldn't come to the NBA right away, and wouldn't cost them money. One team responded to a surprise playoff run by firing its imperfect head coach, and spending big money to bring in Steve Kerr. The other team kept its imperfect head coach on affordable extension. One team drafted Steph Curry, the other team was picking three spots in front of the Warriors, but traded the pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
At some point, it's more than just a coach. There are holes here that only a transcendent superstar could fix, and that was the plan. It was a decent enough idea, until this season, when everything fell apart. Then again, it's tough to tell how much this team "fell apart" versus how much of this has been broken forever.
The Wizards had the same season they've had for three years now. This year's desperation signing (Alan Anderson played in a total of 13 games) was less successful than last year's (I will love Paul Pierce for the rest of my life), but otherwise, the team was about the same. They lost a bunch of winnable games, they had enough talent to stay afloat, and had they made the playoffs, they could have made another run to the second round. They beat a good Hawks team last night, and they could have pushed the Raptors if they'd made it to the No. 7 seed. But they won't be in the playoffs, mostly because the NBA didn't have quite as many awful teams this year, which made it harder to steal empty wins along the way.
It's not difficult to imagine the Wizards responding to this season by hiring Scott Brooks in a doomed attempt to lure Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City. If that fails, Plan B will be trading for someone like Greg Monroe, and getting right back on the treadmill of mediocrity. I love this team, but I hate them for being so damn predictable. We'll see.
Wittman personified the mediocrity treadmill better than anyone, though. He didn't put his players in a position to succeed, he failed miserably at developing young talent, and as long as he was here, there was a ceiling on what was possible for John Wall in his prime. With a better coach, even with every other problem, this season could have worked. But it all went to hell, and that's OK. At least nobody can lie about the problems anymore.
As hopeless as terrible leadership can make you feel, this is the other side. Everything will probably stay the same, but as of today, there's at least a chance the Wizards will get things right. You never know when everything can change. The Warriors were an irrelevant joke for 30 years, and last night they finished the greatest regular season ever. I don't have my hopes set that high, but there's a way to do this smarter, and it's possible now. Wittman is gone.