After starting the season 2-7, Randy Wittman was on the top of everyone's list of coaches to be fired.
By Nov. 4, Tom Ziller of SB Nation was already coming up with a list of potential replacements for Wittman, while Sam Amick, a NBA writer for USA Today, had Wittman on a short list of coaches who would be fired sooner rather than later.
But has Washington's recent success given Wittman the extra time he needs to turn the Wizards around, or is his fate already sealed?
Wittman's chances to find himself out of a job will be highest at the end of the year, as his contract is expiring at the end of this season.
And if the Wizards miss the playoffs, Wittman should start packing his bags the minute after the Wizards play their final regular season game.
But in the meantime, it's unfair to say that Wittman is on the hot seat, as he has once again found a way to win just when his time seemed to be running out. Here are a few reasons why Wittman deserves to stay on as head coach until the end of the season.
The Wizards Have Played Well Overall
After the aforementioned 2-7 start, Washington has turned its season around. If the playoffs started Tuesday night, Washington would be in as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
|NBA Eastern Conference Standings (as of Tuesday afternoon)|
The East has been terrible this year, which is highlighted by the fact that five teams who are under .500 would be making the playoffs if they started on Tuesday. That being said, the Wizards have still played well despite their recent two-game skid.
In their last 11 games, the Wizards have a 7-4 record, including big wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Atlanta Hawks (who will be fighting the Wizards for a playoff spot all season). And their last two losses have only been by a combined five points.
Three of Washington's 11 losses have come in overtime is well, including a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the three best teams in the league.
There have been times this year (most notably Friday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks) where the Wizards have looked flat, and allowed teams to be in a game that they have no business being in.
But all things (and injuries) considered, the Wizards have played well and are a competitive team in almost every game.
Speaking of injuries...
Wittman Hasn't Had Enough Time With a Healthy Team
The case for putting Wittman on the coaching hot seat would be much stronger if he had a healthy team, but so far the injuries have cooled that seat off.
Al Harrington, who was brought in in the offseason to be the stretch the Wizards never had, will end up being out for more than a month because of a knee injury.
Washington's second best player, Bradley Beal, missed seven games with a stress injury in his right fibula and has just been cleared to resume basketball activities.
With Beal out, Martell Webster had to step in to the starting shooting guard role, but Webster went down with an ankle injury. It's not serious, but Webster did miss Monday night's game against the Denver Nuggets.
Starting power forward Nene, who was a big reason for Washington's success so far this season, left in the second half of the Bucks game and missed Monday's game. There is currently no word on exactly how long he'll be out for.
Wittman has also had to deal with injuries to Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton, hurting Washington's depth.
Until the majority of the team can play together healthy, it's unfair to say that Wittman isn't the right coach for the Wizards.
Washington is Still a Strong Defensive Team
When the Wizards caught fire during the second half of last season and almost managed to get to .500 on the season, it was because of two things: John Wall and Wittman's defense-first scheme.
Despite trading away last year's starting center Emeka Okafor, the Wizards are still a strong defensive team.
Washington is 10th in the league in scoring defense, allowing just under 99 points per game. It also held the Nuggets, who are 10th in the league in scoring, to just 75 points on Monday, and it held the Orlando Magic, who are scoring more than 97 points per game, to just 80 on Dec. 2.
Marcin Gortat, who was traded to replace Okafor, is 14th in the league in blocks per game, and Wall even pulled through with a three-block game against Milwaukee on Friday.
The Wizards also have two players (Wall and Trevor Ariza) who are inside the top six in the NBA in steals per game. Despite a continued emphasis on defense by Wittman, the Wizards are also seventh in the league in three-pointers made per game.
In a modern NBA where coaches are always being switched out, the Wizards should be happy with the way Wittman is leading the team.
A continued defense-first approach while Wall continues to have a great offensive year for the Wizards should mean a playoff berth for the team. And even a first-round loss in the playoffs for the Wizards would still mean a job next year for Wittman in the nation's capital.
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