WASHINGTON – Fourteen years ago, Andre Miller was a rookie playing for first-year head coach Randy Wittman’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Miller saw Wittman repeatedly get frustrated with a difficult roster, the coach frequently flashing what would become known as #WittmanFace.
But, sometimes, Wittman’s unhappiness went further.
“Temper tantrum,” Miller said.
Any signs of that in Washington, where Wittman now coaches the Wizards and Miller is again his backup point guard?
“No,” Miller said. “He gets frustrated, but he does a good job of mixing positive criticism with correcting things that need to be done the right way. So, it’s a good blend.”
Wittman and the Wizards have proven to be a good blend, but is Wittman a good coach? And more importantly, should the Wizards retain him this offseason when his contract expires?
By not only taking taking Washington to the playoffs – the franchise’s primary goal – but beating the Bulls in the first round, Wittman has probably ensured he’ll get a new deal. But whether or not he should is a different question.
Nobody has coached as many games and has as bad a record as Wittman, who holds a career record of 191-329 (.367) with Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington. Until this season, his BEST record was 32-50 with those 1999-00 Cavaliers.
On the other hand, maybe Wittman has turned a corner. He has spent most of this postseason – his first – as the coach with the all-time best playoff winning percentage. Even falling to 5-4 with three straight losses to the Pacers entering tonight’s Game 5, Wittman still ranks
fourth third among active coaches in postseason winning percentage.*
*Behind only Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and
Wittman also led the Wizards to a 44-38 regular-season record – a 15-game improvement from last season.
Usually, that type of improvement warrants Coach of the Year consideration. But Wittman didn’t get a single vote.
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. This is essentially unprecedented recently.
If nobody else has noticed Wittman’s coaching improvement, his players have.
“He’s a lot more assertive,” Miller said. “He knows what he wants to get done. I think he knew those things when we was in Cleveland, but it’s just a different atmosphere.
Wittman probably deserves credit for that different atmosphere. His best skill might be the consistency of his approach. Even last season, when the Wizards started 4-28 and seemed on the verge of total collapse, they still went 25-25 the rest of the way.
“His vibe is positive,” Miller said. “He has a good mixture of coaching and player relationships. He’s definitely prepared. You can see him studying film all the time and just assertive in what he wants to get done.”
It’s rare a coach has support of all his players, and even those who do don’t have total total support from each player. But Wittman at least has the support of John Wall, Washington’s unquestioned leader.
Wall spent a year and a half playing for Flip Saunders, who was assisted by Wittman before he took over midway through the 2011-12 season.
“All of us as a team respects everything he does,” Wall said of Wittman.
By preaching defense and pace, Wittman has guided the Wizards further than they’ve been in the last nine years. How much of that is Wall’s growth, and how much of that is Wittman? Maybe the answer is inseparable.
“Now, we basically run the same plays we had since my rookie year, but we’re focused as a defensive team,” Wall said. “I think he’s trusting me more with the ball and trusting the team in running it.”
Wittman is slow to take credit, though.
Asked whether this season has been personally satisfying, Wittman talked about all the tough times his players have faced. Pressed further about his satisfaction in light of his tough times, Wittman perhaps revealed why he’s achieving better results than ever.
“Sure,” Wittman said. “We’re all in one, one in all. So, we feel the same things.”