It’s safe to say Randy Wittman is facing a fair amount of criticism since the once ascendant Washington Wizards became mired in mediocrity. They are currently sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-11 record.
The team’s disappointing start and the fact that this is the last guaranteed year of Wittman’s contract extension has led many to believe that the Wizards will fire Wittman this season. Despite the team’s uneven performance thus far, it’s not immediately clear if Wittman deserves the criticism he’s faced this season.
To be clear, I’ve never been a fan of Wittman’s coaching, rotations, philosophies, etc. I viewed his contract extension as a mistake. The Wizards made the second round, and the organization rewarded him at the cost of their future.
Randy Wittman deserves credit for building a top five defense from the roster, but there is a definite ceiling on where he can take a team. Washington’s situation was sort of similar to the position the Golden State Warriors were in with Mark Jackson minus the immense acrimony.
Mark Jackson helped mold the Warriors into a legitimate playoff-caliber team and even contender, but wasn’t creative enough—at least on the offensive end—to lead them to their goal of a championship. The Warriors’ front office recognized this and parted ways with Jackson for the sake of the franchise. That was a huge turning point for the Warriors; the decision to fire Jackson, and the subsequent choice to hire Kerr ushered them into a new era in the NBA where the Warriors are the defending champions and the best team in basketball.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Wizards’ management extended Randy Wittman’s contract despite the fact the general consensus on him was lukewarm, at best. Obviously, the Wizards’ front office weren’t taking a poll, but they must have recognized his limitations. Instead of cutting ties and moving on, they doubled down on Wittman.
Based on the last few paragraphs, I’ve most likely given the impression that Randy Wittman deserves to be fired. While I’ve never been an advocate of his, he is not to blame for the Wizards’ current predicament. He created a read-and-react offense everyone thought would compliment the roster that the front office assembled in the offseason. Unfortunately, outside of Wall, and maybe outside a select few—Ramon Sessions, Jared Dudley, and Nene—the team lacks adept ball handlers and players that are able to make a sophisticated play for their teammates.
Bradley Beal has been anointed the secondary ball handler, but it seems like it was by default rather than choice. He simply lacks the vision and skill to run an offense. Though, few players can match Wall’s creativity and decision-making in the pick-and-roll, Beal seems especially inept at running one. Despite his creed to reign in his mid-range shooting, he still relies on it as his go-to move out of the PnR. He can’t find the open man consistently. He has the occasional game that dissuades people of that notion, but he regresses to his usual habits soon enough.
There’s not really another option in the starting unit or the bench either. Otto Porter is only in his third year, and mainly operates as an off-ball threat. He can cut to the basket and hit an open three-pointer. It’s asking too much if he’s expected to do any more than that in an offense. Gary Neal is a gunner who is more preoccupied with when his next opportunity to score will come than how he can find an open teammate. The Wizards do not have the personnel to play the way they want to play.
Randy Wittman is not at fault for what’s happening to the Washington Wizards, but if the Wizards aspire to be more than a middling team, this should be Wittman’s last year as the coach. He will only be fired if things sputter out of control, though, if only to create a scapegoat. If the Wizards tread water or actually significantly improve, he will remain gainfully employed. If the Wizards had actually made a change back in 2014, they wouldn’t be facing this challenge right before the most important offseason they have ever had.