In a league as competitive as the NBA, teams often exhaust all possible options before deciding to make important decisions or changes because it’s so easy for a single move to unravel years and years of hard work and planning.
Other times, certain changes or decisions are fairly easy to make because they fill a much-needed role or position. But sometimes, what puts a team over-the-top is a drastic shakeup — an unexpected move that surprises both the players and the fan base. Obviously however, it’s impossible to tell how these “surprises” are going to turn out.
I’m sure that when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden in 2012, they thought they were making the best decision for the franchise. But fastforward to 2015, and they now employ Dion Waiters as their latest stopgap in what has been a revolving door at shooting guard since Harden’s departure.
On the flip side, when Stan Van Gundy shocked the basketball world in December by releasing Josh Smith less than two seasons into his four year, $54 million contract, his Detroit Pistons won 13 of their next 15 games after starting the season 5-23.
And last season, the Golden State Warriors fired Mark Jackson despite him leading them to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1991. In his inagural season at the helm, Kerr has the Warriors atop the NBA at 58-13 and has his team playing the most inspired, exciting brand of basketball in recent memory.
In his first season in Oakland,Steve Kerr
has the Warriors atop the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
But the Washington Wizards are on an opposite trajectory. Though they won their first playoff series since 2005 (albeit over a depleted Bulls team), it was evident that the Wizards were underachieving in relation to the quality of their roster and that part of their under performance was because of their head coach, Randy Wittman.
Before last season, Wittman posted only a 32.5% winning percentage as head coach of the Wizards and for his career has just a 39% winning percentage and only a single winning season. And while it’s understandable for a young, developing team to have some rough patches, any high quality NBA coach could have won more than 32.5% of their games with John Wall on the roster, especially considering the fact that he averaged over 17 points and nearly 8 assists during the first two seasons of Wittman’s stint in Washington. Additionally, a few of the Wizards’ role players from those two seasons like Nick Young, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche all went on to enjoy more successful careers after moving on from Washington, indicating that Wittman and his coaching style may have been holding them back.
This season, the Wizards have gone on three losing streaks of five or more, and have only won nine of their last 36 games, sliding all the way down to No. 5 in the woeful Eastern Conference at 40-32. With John Wall playing like an All NBA point guard, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce dominating on the wing when healthy plus Nene and Gortat in the post, the Wizards have one of the more balanced starting lineups in the entire league. For them to be only a medicore team, in an awful conference, speaks volumes about the coaching job Wittman has done.
Actually, this quote from Wittman should say enough.
Interestingly however, Wittman was able to hold onto his job after last season while Mark Jackson (who by all measures was more successful than Wittman), was fired by Golden State. Instead of toiling near the bottom of the Western Conference for an extended period, Jackson was able to transform the Warriors from a 23 win team in 2012, into a 51 win team last season.
While Wittman appears to have benefited from the natural development of his younger players, Jackson played a key role in the development of Stephen Curry (among others), helped turn Golden State into one of the tightest knit squads in the league and coached the Warriors into becoming one of the NBA’s more stout defensive teams, despite playing in the hyper competitive Western Conference.
Though Jackson’s personal rift with the Warriors’ front office is well known, tbe decision to fire him came down to the fact that management felt Jackson brought this team as far as he could have brought them.
And if the Wizards ever hope to become a dominant team in this league, they have to realize the same about Wittman. His time is up.