As the days passed after the conclusion of the Washington Wizards' season, interim coach Randy Wittman possessed the steady countenance of an NBA lifer who has been through this kind of situation.
"There was really no angst," he said.
After all, why would there be? Yes, Wittman was just 18-31 with the Wizards after taking over for the fired Flip Saunders in January. Washington, though, won eight of its last 10 games, the players spoke highly of Wittman in their exit interviews, he remained under contract for another year and most importantly, the front office was strangely quiet despite the availability of several intriguing coaching candidates.
Monday, the Wizards ended the wait, formally hiring Wittman and giving him a two-year contract to help shepherd the franchise toward respectability.
"I'm thrilled to be here," Wittman said. "I'm excited with what transpired toward the end of the year with the changes we made, and I'm really pleased to have an opportunity to continue to lead this group of guys. We all feel the direction this team is heading in is the right one."
Wittman's brand of no-nonsense leadership seemed to strike a chord with the Wizards, and the development of players such as Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker indicated Wittman's teaching methods were strong as well.
"As time went on, you could see the transition of what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it and these guys buying into it," Wittman said.
In addition, several players, including star point guard John Wall, vouched for Wittman to general manager Ernie Grunfeld as they packed up after the season.
"It's always nice to know that your players are responding in a positive manner, but they didn't have to say anything," Grunfeld said. "You could see it by their actions. They played hard for him, and they played the right way. It's nice that they said something verbally, but they spoke louder with their actions on the court."
Wittman, 52, has a career mark of 118-238 after stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Wizards.
"You're always learning," he said. "If you stop learning, then you need to get out of the game. I'm always trying to become a better coach."
With the Wizards holding the No. 3 pick in the June 28 draft, they have an opportunity to add another talented player to the rotation and have a full offseason to incorporate him into Wittman's system. The team also must figure out what to do with the bloated contracts of forwards Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche in order to add another veteran.
He may have had to wait awhile, but now, those are Wittman's issues and his alone — and he couldn't be happier.
"I'm a basketball junkie," he said. "I'm a lifer. I'm not going to take anybody's job out here in the media. This is what I'm going to do. When I'm done doing this, I'm done working. I want to be around the game. That's who I am."
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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