Washington Wizards

Should Another Slow Washington Wizards Start Get Randy Wittman Fired?

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 03:  Randy Wittman of the Washington Wizards coaches from the sideline against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 3, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Depending on where you are, a little warmth underneath the tush can be a good or a bad thing. If you're in the car on a cold winter day, that seat warmer feels amazing. But if you're Randy Wittman, that warmth means that the hot seat is getting turned up a couple more notches. 

On the heels of an embarrassing loss to the San Antonio Spurs, we may as well start calling that chair the "scorching seat" for the Washington Wizards head coach. The previous adjective just isn't strong enough. 

As relayed by Michael Lee of the Washington Post, Nene had some choice words for the team after falling 92-79 to the defending Western Conference champions:

They have great players, a great team, but the way they execute things, the way they cut, the way they exploit weaknesses, swing the ball. They don’t think about stats. We still think about stats. Our young guys must take their heads out their butts and play the right way, because I’m getting tired of this.

Everyone is getting tired of it. Washington has been a massive disappointment during the early portion of the 2013-14 campaign, and now Wittman is the odds-on favorite to be the first head coach canned.

Seriously, I'm not making that up. 

Bovada.lv has released the latest odds, and Wittman checks in at the top of the pack: 

  1. Randy Wittman (WAS), 2-1

  2. Tyrone Corbin  (UTA), 9-4

  3. Monty Williams (NO), 7-2

  4. Jason Kidd (BRK), 13-2

  5. Dwane Casey (TOR, 13-2

  6. Mike Woodson (NY), 15-2

  7. Mike D'Antoni  (LAL), 12-1

  8. Terry Stotts (POR), 12-1

So, is that how it should be? Should Wittman actually be fired because of this slow start?

The answer is a clear-cut "Yes."

 

Another Slow Start, This Time Coupled with High Expectations

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02: Head coach Randy Wittman of the Washington Wizards and John Wall #2 watch from the bench during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center on April 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Wizards are in danger of becoming this season's most disappointing team. 

After trading for Marcin Gortat right before the start of the 2013-14 campaign, Washington seemed to be a lock for the playoffs. While not quite on the level of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, the Wizards had risen to the forefront of the horde of teams competing for those final postseason berths. 

John Wall was an elite point guard. Bradley Beal was one of the league's rising stars. The combination of Nene and Gortat in the frontcourt was going to make up for the lack of depth.

Or so we thought.

With a 2-6 record, the Wizards have the worst winning percentage in the Eastern Conference, and only the Utah Jazz's 1-8 mark is worse in the West. They're being outscored by 4.3 points per game, and things don't look much better when efficiency is brought into the equation.

According to Basketball-Reference, Washington checks in at No. 21 in offensive rating, scoring 101.8 points per 100 possessions. The Wizards' defensive rating doesn't tell a different story. Allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions, they are at No. 21 once more. 

That's great if they were in Vegas and playing blackjack, but it's not so good for an NBA team.

It's tough enough to win games at a playoff-contending level while struggling on one side of the court, much less both.

Sadly enough, this is par for the course for Wittman, who is now in his eighth season as a head coach in the Association. Take a look at how he's fared during the first 10 games, 20 games and full season in each of them: 

YearTeamFirst 10 Games Win %First 20 Games Win %Final Win %
1999-00Cleveland Cavaliers0.5000.5500.390
2000-01Cleveland Cavaliers0.7000.6500.366
2006-07Minnesota Timberwolves0.4000.5000.390
2007-08Minnesota Timberwolves0.1000.1500.268
2008-09Minnesota Timberwolves0.2000.2000.293
2011-12*Washington Wizards0.3000.3000.367
2012-13Washington Wizards0.0000.1500.354

*Wittman took over for Flip Saunders after 17 games.   

Looking at that, it's not hard to see why Wittman has one of the worst winning percentages ever among coaches who have spent at least a few years on the sidelines. 

Lately, there's been quite a trend emerging. Wittman begins the season in slow fashion, then his team magically starts winning games after it's too late. They win enough that he saves his job, but that's about it.

This season has been no different. The Wizards boast a .250 winning percentage over the first eight games, one that could easily drop to 0.200 with upcoming games against the desperate Cleveland Cavaliers and the suddenly elite Minnesota Timberwolves. 

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23: Head coach Randy Wittman of the Washington Wizards talks to his players during a game against the Golden State Warriors on March 23, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Wittman's squad has been far too prone to calling isolation plays, taking ill-advised shots and failing to make proper decisions on defense. Although the head coach has typically had a good defensive mind throughout his career on the sidelines, that hasn't manifested itself on the court quite yet.

And this year, it matters.

All of the teams appearing in that chart of Wittman's coaching job had low expectations. None was expected to be seriously competitive.

But that changed this year. Everything—the high payroll, the growth of Wall and Beal, the acquisition of Gortat and the nationwide buzz—pointed toward a playoff berth.

While the management hasn't explicitly said so, it feels like a playoffs-or-bust season in D.C. And although the lack of bench talent is causing major problems—general manager Ernie Grunfeld's fault, not Wittman's—it's the coach who gets to be the scapegoat.

 

Elite Options Waiting in the Wings

DENVER, CO - MAY 8:  Head Coach George Karl of the Denver Nuggets speaks to the media after being named 2012-2013 NBA Coach of the Year on May 8, 2013 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Wittman isn't the main problem in the nation's capitol. But he isn't the solution either, and that's where the true problems start. There are men out there who could help the team find a lot more success. 

One such option is already on the bench: Don Newman, a member of the famous Gregg Popovich coaching tree. The 2013-14 season has already seen Pop proteges like Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown experience success in small doses for the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers, and Newman presumably learned enough during his time with the San Antonio Spurs that he could step in and function as an above-average interim coach. 

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 25:  Head coach Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts in the second half while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the FedExForum on May 25, 2013 in Memp
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

But there are bigger names. 

Lionel Hollins is still out there, waiting for another job after he was somewhat inexplicably let go by the Memphis Grizzlies. A clash of ideologies was at the root of the problem there, as Hollins wouldn't accept the stat-focused viewpoints of the front office.

While that's troubling in an NBA era that is increasingly focused on the numbers, he's still a great option for the Wizards. Hollins has always been known as a defensive coach, and Dave Joerger's struggles with the Grizz this year are proving just how strong his predecessor's systems were. 

The Wizards have a great deal of potential on the defensive end of the court, but it's largely untapped. Hollins could fix that or at least attempt to do so. 

And yet, he's still not the top option. Nor are guys I haven't even mentioned yet, coaches with solid pedigrees like Nate McMillan and P.J. Carlesimo.

The premier choice would be George Karl, the still-unemployed reigning Coach of the Year. 

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 2: Head Coach George Karl of the Denver Nuggets instructs his players against the Golden State Warriors in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 2, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Californi
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

After spending last year with the Denver Nuggets, Karl became the scapegoat when the team was bounced from the playoffs earlier than expected, even though that was to be expected after losing Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL

He has history with Nene, he traditionally gets the most out of talented point guards, and he's fantastic at maximizing effectiveness during the regular season. And that's exactly what the Wizards should be looking for right now, as they have to get into the postseason before worrying about what happens next. 

There's an abundance of options on the market right now, and one has to assume that Ted Leonsis can lure one of them in. There's some allure to coaching a team with a Wall-Beal backcourt, especially because it won't be hard to improve upon this putrid performance at the beginning of the year. 

That right there should be enough to get Wittman canned. 

Washington has consistently done everything in its power to promote a playoff appearance at the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign. Why stop now?

If there's an upgrade to be made, then make it.

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