The Washington Wizards held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to announce that assistant Randy Wittman was promoted to replace head coach Flip Saunders, who was relieved of his duties that morning. Team president Ernie Grunfeld was on hand as well to field questions from the media. Wittman will finish out the remaining of the season as the interim head coach, the rest of the coaching staff was retained.
Wittman emphasized his experience being an interim head coach:
“I have coached in this league on a number different teams. It is not an easy transition. I have done this before and I have been on a staff and taking over in the middle of the season. I know what is about and what change needs happen to try to make this a positive situation … The main thing that I learned the first time that I stepped in — this is even more magnified because of the condensed schedule and playing so many games without practice time — we just got to simplify things … you can’t flood these guys with information overload … just two or three things to concentrate on and take the baby steps after there.”
The removal of Saunders brought a level of personal sadness:
“Is this a happy day? Not by any regard. A good man walked out the door today. It is always hard. I did not come here to Washington to be the head coach. I came here to help him [Saunders] … This is a black mark on all of us, absolutely. Everyone has their own beliefs and philosophies on how to do it. And I think the reason that Flip and I have been successful together throughout the years in the NBA because we are kind of polar opposites. And you have to have a staff that is mixed like that. Strengths and weaknesses of a staff is just as important as strengths and weaknesses of your players.”
Wittman emphasized the status quo will no longer be accepted:
“There has got to be change. We have to change. I am not the miracle maker here. We have to change our outlook on how we play. Sometimes when you have such a young team, players get a little confused when the word development is used, that they are going to be able to develop through by just playing. Development happens on the practice floor. You have to earn what you get out on the game floor. Sometimes you think because I am young that they are just going to throw me out there and let me develop, and without any reward for those minutes being given to you. I believe you have to prove that you deserve to be on the floor. There becomes a point that if you know that you are going to be out there that you’ll play whatever way you want to play. I think that has to change a little bit. Are we going to develop these young kids? Absolutely. That is a major job, and we knew that coming into this year. But we can’t have a situation where we are competitive for three games and not competitive for three games without effort.”
Wittman will only tolerate certain types of mistakes:
“Like I told the guys, we are young. Are we going to make mistakes? Yes. That is how you learn as a young player to become a veteran, to go from a good player to a great player. You make mistakes along the way and learn from them. We can not make mistakes half-hearted. If you are going to make mistakes, make it going all out. I can live with that … and walk out to fight another fight. I can’t live with it if you are going out there and going through the motions … knowing that I am a young guy and they are supposedly supposed to develop me, that I am going to get this time no matter what kind of effort I put on the floor. That has got to change. We have to change that as coaches. Players are going to have to change. That is something that they’re are going to have to do. As I told a few players here, that is why I am here today. If I didn’t think that this team had any positive ahead of them, then I would have walked too. I believe that this team does have a lot of positive. And that we can compete at a higher level, more often, night in and night out.”
Wittman had conditions before taking the position:
“Before accepting, I asked them what their thoughts were about not only now but the future. I gave them my thoughts. I told them how I thought this team needed to go and what direction, and how I was going to do it. They were on board with that. I said if we are not on board with it, then we need to go in a different direction.”
Coach Wittman alluded he was not keen on too much of a joking atmosphere:
“I like to have a laugh and a hoot, but there comes a time when there is work and play. And right now, those two are coming together too often. We are playing around too much without the focus of doing what we are supposed to do and how to do it. And as coaches, that is what your job is, to teach them that.”
Wittman’s message to fans:
“To tell the fans, I am telling you what I believe. I am not here … I am not running against Romney, I am not getting any votes here. I am not looking for votes. I am looking to get this team going a positive direction. I am still here today because I believe this team can be better than where we are right now. It is not a popularity contest. If you do not win games, you are not popluar. If you win games, everybody loves you.”
Wittman spoke of a new style due to Washington’s offensive limitations:
“Tempo is number one. Everybody can talk about running, what is a running team? It is more to me tempo. When you look at our team, last night in particular, the stinkers that we have had is John Wall walking the ball up the floor. Going head to head, 5-on-5, 85-percent of your possessions. Our team is not made that way right now. We do not have the big bruiser inside to throw the ball to, to create double teams, to slug it out at this point. So you have to… tempo has to be increased. Make or Miss. Now with that, also comes the restraints of understanding that it is not running wild, which John has tendency to sometimes do, and he has got to learn, and we have to teach him, there are certain ways to run after a make as there are with a miss. Our tempo of getting into things has to be quicker. It can’t be methodical. Last night, every time I looked up, it almost felt like our shot clock situation was zero.”
Wittman on how to hold young players accountable:
“If they are not playing the right way, why do you want to play them? They have to understand the right way to play. I think that is where you run into a little bit of ‘I’m tired now so well, I am not going to go out there and deny this pass here now.’ Well, if you are not going to go out and deny it when you are tired then that is telling me that you can’t play when you are tired, so you come out of the game. Then you don’t get to stay out there and play through that.
“We got eight of ‘em [young players], some of them are going to have to play. They are going to play. I am talking about learning how to use those minutes in the proper way. They are gonna play, and if they don’t play, then they are not learning how to accept that or not willing to accept that. And that is part of this whole process of which young guys you move on with in the future and which ones don’t you. They tell you that.
“We got to the point where they just kind of played knowing that they are going to be out there 38 minutes. We got to have guys that have to understand when they are on the floor, that they are on the floor because they are playing the right way and trying … to do things the right way. And that is with a lot of heart and effort. And when it goes the other way, we have guys that when they get tired, it’s over. It is my job to put another young guy in there that is not tired.”
Wittman stated he was going to show John Wall tough love as a coach:
“I spoke with John. John is a big part of this. John has the ability to be a very, very good player. John has to now take what he has and not just think it is given to him. He is a talented player that I think I need to coach. And he has to be willing to be coached. If he does that, that is where good players become great players. I played with one of the best in Isiah Thomas. One of the best. He was one of the best because he was one of the toughest, and he was the one that Chuck Daly or Bobby Knight was on constantly. When you use your best player in that regard, and you use them that ‘John is not doing it the right way,’ I guarantee you, other people will follow.”
Wittman still has faith in this team and its players:
“But as I met with a couple players here today, I told them, I would have walked with him (Saunders) if I did not believe that this team could be better than what we are……I am going to do my best job to get these young guys to understand how they have to play at a high NBA level. I do not think we totally understand how we have to play as a young player to be competitive night in and night out. That is what I am going to try and do”
Wittman summed up his message in succinct terms:
“This isn’t brain surgery. We just got to learn and play the right way, every night.”
My Press Conference Observations:
- Ernie Grunfeld gave his usual savvy political speak where he talks without saying anything of real substance by using buzz words and talking points. The Washington Post’s Michael Lee has the transcript of Grunfeld. I found his points of little value, Wittman’s message more important. However, Grunfeld’s, “They are losing right now. But just because you are losing does not make you a loser,” was one-liner was memorable.
- From my viewpoint, conventional wisdom amongst fans and some media members has settled in that these moves must be done: buy out Rashard Lewis, amnesty Andray Blatche, and either let Grunfeld go ASAP or when his contract expires at end of this season. The fates of Nick Young and JaVale McGee induce mixed reactions, and some would like one or both to remain, depending on the price. A new GM would likely hire his own coach, but those other three decisions have to be made in order to give a restless fan base some hope and patience that common sense logic is part of the Ted Leonsis’ rebuilding plan. Kyle Weidie touched on themes of this in his Washington City Paper blog post.
- Wittman’s variety of facial expressions are not reserved for McGee’s dribble exhibitions as he busted out several great ones throughout the press conference, and the guy loves to use his hands when talking. I am fan, and guilty myself, of this communication style. Wittman often answers his own rhetorical questions, which is a fresh substance style difference from Flip.
- Move over Kevin Garnett references, Isiah Thomas and Bobby Knight are here. Flip loved to drop KG at any chance he could get to any type of player. Randy brought up Zeke, who he won a national title with at Indiana and his coach, the General. I am actually totally cool with Zeke because he was a dope Hall of Fame PG and the mere mention of his name makes many New Yorkers cringe. More needling of neurotic Knicks fans is always a positive.
- Wittman rolled with an “it is what is is” — Mike Miller’s favorite answer to most any question. Your legend keeps living on in Washington, Mr. Glass.
- Wittman’s use of the word “hoot” cracked me up. He does have a reputation for being a hard ass, but I have witnessed him showing a warmer side of his personality with players in practice and before games.
- The Wiz’s new coach had some interesting comments about playing time and earning minutes. I felt he was talking about Young, McGee and Blatche without mentioning their names. I would commend some changes in that regard, because at 2-15, no player’s burn should be set in stone.
- The one player he did mention by name, once on his own and another time when I specifically asked, was John Wall. It was a fair and welcomed criticism of Wall’s game. I took it as Wittman wanting to have more one-on-one time with Wall, which seems to be mostly Sam Cassell’s responsibility.
- Randy mentioned a few times how young players develop in practice and that determining their minutes. Unfortunately, the crazy schedule limits Washington’s ability to have significant practice time.
- The parody twitter accounts of Wittman, Saunders and Grunfeld are always comedic gold and obviously on fire right now.
Below are three videos that I made of every Wittman comment from the presser, I had some fun with the musical selection: