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Roller-coaster season comes to an end for Wizards

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Wittman's passion brought team together

The disappointment of six straight losses at the end of the season just doesn't compare to the 12 in row endured at the beginning. In between, the Wizards believe they redeemed themselves and proved that if healthy, they'll be in the playoffs a year from now.

A day after they ended the 2012-13 season with a 29-53 record, players revealed just how much despair there had been back in late November. Following a gut-wrenching overtime loss at Atlanta and an even more painful double-overtime defeat at home against Charlotte, the Wizards were blown out by San Antonio, seemingly with no answers as their franchise-worst start reached a dozen games.

In the locker room afterward, players said it brought coach Randy Wittman to tears.

"The thing that got me emotional was the fight and the heart that these guys were putting into it, and we had nothing to show for it," Wittman said. "I wanted them to know, even though we were 0-12, it might sound funny, how much I appreciated that and how much I really trusted in them, that listen, guys, stay with this. It's going to turn."

The Wizards eventually sunk all the way to 4-28 before going 25-25 over the final 50 games of the season. Point guard John Wall, who missed the first 33 games, was involved in final 24 victories, returning one game after shooting guard rookie Bradley Beal announced his presence with a game-winning shot against Western Conference-champion Oklahoma City. When the backcourt duo was paired with Nene, the Wizards were 15-7.

"I cried with [Wittman] because it was a tough moment," said Nene, one of many players for whom health is key offseason priority. "When we start, everybody step on us, humiliate us, say, 'You guys sucks,' and the way we finish, we feel like winners. That's because coach, he expose his emotion and, for sure, he lead us."

That endorsement was echoed by Wall, who advocated for Wittman to be retained a year ago. This summer his own future is at stake as he's eligible for a maximum contract extension -- which he believes he deserves -- on July 1.

"The main thing to me is it's not all about me," Wall said. "I'm not a selfish type of player. All I want to do is win. If we're winning, I'm cool with anything. So that's all that matters to me."

The Wizards also must decide how to allocate resources to the remainder of the roster. Martell Webster is a free agent after claiming the starting small forward position and becoming a critical locker room presence. A.J. Price wants to remain Wall's backup at the point. Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin all have crucial months ahead to improve and determine whether they can earn minutes. There's some debate about the value of adding a young first-round draft pick versus using free agency and trades to acquire another veteran or two.

But there's none about Wittman.

"Randy is awesome, honestly," Webster said. "I think this is the most fun I've had as far as a head coach goes. He's passionate, and he really cared about this team and cares about guys and puts guys into position to contribute and succeed. ... For me, [Wittman crying] was a point in the season where I was just like, I'm in. I'm totally in."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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