Randy Wittman

Randy Wittman officially gets contract extension from Wizards

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When I recently wrote about Randy Wittman’s strange coaching odyssey, I said of the Wizards coach:

Nobody has coached a team with such a big turnaround that finished with a winning record and not received a Coach of the Year vote in at least the last 14 years. It’s probably been longer, but I can’t find full voting further back.

Thanks to the NBA office, I can now answer that unresolved question. Since the league introduced the award in 1963, four coaches have met that criteria:

  • Rick Adelman (1999 Sacramento Kings)
  • Gregg Popovich (1998 San Antonio Spurs)
  • Bill Fitch (1985 Houston Rockets
  • Tom Nissalke (1979 Houston Rockets)

On the whole, that’s a pretty impressive list of coaches. Apparently Coach of the Year voters don’t always recognize coaching talent – even when a big turnaround and a winning record, common criteria for the award, are staring them in the face.

But maybe it just takes time. Adelman in 1999 and Popovich in 1998 probably weren’t the caliber of coaches they eventually became. If Wittman develops into their class, the Wizards will be very happy.

That’s because Washington, as expected, will bring back Wittman for next season. Wizards release:

Washington Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld announced today that the team has signed head coach Randy Wittman to a contract extension. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are pleased with the progress the team has made on the court and with the culture we have been able to build with Randy as our head coach,” said Grunfeld. “We will look to continue that momentum with him deservedly leading this group of dedicated and hard-working players.”

“This team and this organization have made significant strides over the last two-and-a-half seasons and I’m excited to be a part of the next step in that process,” said Wittman. “The players and staff all feel that this is the beginning of something special and we’re dedicated to building on our positive accomplishments while striving to improve and reach the next level of success.”

“Randy’s leadership and preparation allowed him to implement and build an unselfish team mentality over the last several seasons where defense comes first and every player is held accountable,” said Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis. “The result is a Washington Wizards team that proudly represents our fans and our city both on and off the court and has us looking eagerly toward what we can accomplish moving forward.”

The contract is for three years and $9 million, though the final year is not guaranteed, according J. Michael of CSN Washington. That means Wittman will be a lame duck again in 2015-16.

All along the way, Wittman has – deservedly, I’d say – drawn doubters.

But he got the Wizards to believe in him this year.

Now, to keep his job for more than a couple years, he’ll have to do it all over again.

Larry Bird: Kevin McHale won’t coach Pacers

Larry Bird
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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1. Kevin McHale withdrew from the Kings’ coaching search.

2. The Pacers fired Frank Vogel.

Will McHale reunite with former Celtics teammate Larry Bird in Indiana?

“I would not do that to Kevin, have him to work for me,”Bird said at a press conference today. “That’s just not fair. I respect the man too much, and we’ve been through too many battles together to bring him in here and be my coach. I would love for him to be my coach, but it ain’t going to happen, because our relationship.”

It would have been compelling to watch Bird and McHale work together, but I’m not convinced McHale is the best coach available – though that’s not the only concern.

After all, Bird just ousted someone who might be a better coach than any replacement.

Frank Vogel out as Pacers coach

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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After leaving Frank Vogel hanging for a few days – something he explicitly said he hoped to avoid – Pacers president Larry Bird finally ousted the coach.

“It’s time for a new voice around here,” Bird said at a press conference today. “Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve done.”

Bird clarified that Vogel wasn’t fired, that his contract had expired and wasn’t being renewed.

Will there be a search now to replace Vogel? Kevin McHale has already been mentioned as a candidate, and he’d make sense. He played on Bird’s Celtics and learned an up-tempo system with the Rockets.

Vogel is now free to interview with the Rockets, and I think he’d be a home-run hire. Vogel’s defensive skills are badly needed in Houston, and perhaps the the Rockets’ institutional knowledge could fine-tune his offense.

Report: Rockets talking to Jeff Hornacek, Sam Cassell, Stephen Silas, Chris Finch

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek directs his players in the second half of an NBA exhibition basketball game against the Houston Rockets Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 95-92. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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There are the big names: Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt, Mike D’Antoni and Frank Vogel.

There’s the catchy name: Kenny Smith.

And there’s the eliminated name: J.B. Bickerstaff.

Expect many more names in the Rockets’ coaching search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Houston owner Les Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey met with Bickerstaff on Monday, as well as Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Houston assistant Chris Finch, league sources said.

Conversations with potential candidates are expected to include several prominent college coaches, sources said.

Among the NBA candidates with whom the Rockets are working to set up interviews are former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, league sources said. There could be 10-15 – perhaps even more – candidates interviewed in the process, league sources said.

Hornacek coached the Suns and looked pretty good doing so until this season, when he feuded with Markieff Morris, used too many strange lineups and saw the team quit on him. If he can explain this year’s troubles, he’d be a solid hire. But the Rockets have the best job available, so they can probably aim a little higher.

Cassell, like Smith, played for the Rockets. An intelligent player, Cassell has successfully transitioned to coaching, though I’m not sure he’s ready for a top job. He mentored John Wall with the Wizards before joining the Clippers. From afar, it’s just tough to judge his contributions to a loaded coaching staff in Los Angeles.

Stephen Silas broke into NBA coaching on his dad’s staffs with the Hornets (turned Pelicans) and Cavaliers. Paul Silas even let Stephen serve as head coach for games during the 2011-12 season. Between and after stints with his dad, Stephen has impressed at other stops around the league. Maybe someone who learned offense from Don Nelson and defense from Steve Clifford and gets along well with players would make a good head coach. The biggest question is how his rapport with players would translate to the head chair, but that’s a concern for any assistant.

Finch coached in Europe for more than a decade until the Rockets tabbed him to coach their D-League team. After a successful stint there, he moved to the bench in Houston. He’d be more of a daring hire at this point, but he could perhaps unite the Rockets’ front office and coaching staff better than anyone.

Reports: Kevin McHale withdraws from Kings coaching search, could join Pacers

Kevin McHale
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports wrote a few weeks ago about the Kings coaching search:

Kevin McHale is steadily gaining internal support, league sources told The Vertical. If Cousins truly is the future, the Kings have to hire a coach he will buy into, and McHale, a respected voice and one of the game’s all-time great post players, certainly seems like a good fit.

They won’t get him, of course

McHale indeed emerged as a candidate, and though it took him a little longer than other prominent former head coaches, McHale also came to the conclusion Mannix foresaw,

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This is part of the reason Sacramento talking to everybody. The Kings don’t know whom they can get.

An owner who has changed course too often in Vivek Ranadive, a general manager with too little experience in Vlade Divac, a top player who repeatedly feuds with coaches in DeMarcus Cousins – who’d want this job? Probably not someone who could get one of the NBA’s other 29 head-coaching gigs, and that might apply to McHale.

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

Frank Vogel is still twisting in the wind, but it seems unlikely the Pacers keep him.

There’d definitely be something intriguing about former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale teaming up in Indiana. McHale’s experience with the Rockets could help him install an up-tempo offense, too.