Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman has earned his players' respect, but did he have it when the season started?
Wednesday brings more national media coverage for the Wizards, as USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt led his NBA column by revisiting the team's wretched 4-28 start to the season and how coach Randy Wittman kept his players' faith long enough to eventually go on their current 13-9 streak. It's a really good read, with some excellent quotes from Wittman about keeping things in perspective. Even Rockets coach Kevin McHale, whose team fell Saturday to these new-look Wiz, weighed in on the teamwork Washington has shown on both ends of the court.
But the best comments might be from Martell Webster, who was one of Wittman's most outwardly-vocal supporters early in the season when nothing was going right.
[Wittman] kept the locker room together when it could have imploded. Wittman convinced the Wizards they were not a one- or two-man team. He refused to let players believe they were losers.
"It's hard, especially when the numbers don't add up," Wizards forward Martell Webster said. "You kind of feel like there's a divide in the team and begin to wonder why we're sticking with the system and why aren't we changing things. The fact of the matter is, we never tried to buy into it. Once we began to believe and take accountability and responsibility individually, then we began to notice the real truth of it."
Defend and share the ball, Wittman repeated. There are signs, Wittman told his players, that they would start winning.
"He didn't change a thing," Webster said. "When you stick the course and stick to the game plan and just continue to encourage and motivate guys to buy into the system, then it pays off. He was consistent, persistent and resilient with that approach."
Reading into players' comments is always tricky, and Webster has been nothing but a model teammate and citizen in the locker room since signing as a free agent. But it certainly sounds like he's saying the Wizards didn't really give Wittman a shot early in the season, which would certainly help explain their struggles. On the other hand, it would also be a bit odd; you hear about players "quitting" on their coach when things aren't going well all the time, but to not give him an honest shake to begin with is different. Maybe Webster was getting at something more benign and different words came out. Who knows.
Either way, the Wizards' turnaround has been rightly credited to the players, notably John Wall's return, Bradley Beal's emergence, Emeka Okafor's improvement, and Nene's steady hand. But Wittman deserves his fair share of the credit for keeping the team together long enough for all those developments to fall into place.