A team in crisis often spends an inordinate amount of time looking to the coach for answers. But after a franchise-worst 12 straight losses to start the season, Randy Wittman instead turned to his players, and they responded with Washington's first win of the year.
Whether Wittman unlocked the key to a season turnaround remains to be seen. The schedule doesn't do the Wizards (1-12) any favors, starting with a visit to the New York Knicks (10-4) on Friday before a home game against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat on Monday.
But the players appreciated the gesture from a coach who has a tendency to dictate as much as he can without putting on a uniform. They also demonstrated that their own identity may finally be starting to emerge.
|Wizards at Knicks|
|When »||Friday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where »||Madison Square||Garden, New York|
"I just feel like he let us be basketball players," forward Chris Singleton said. "It's just something at the beginning of the season we were all hesitant to say anything. Now he's trying to tell us -- since we're out there on the court -- that we should be the ones talking, not him or the other coaches coming back into the huddle and correcting everything. We have to correct ourselves if we're going to get better."
With John Wall, the team's longest-tenured player, and Nene, its most respected veteran, both missing time with injuries, the Wizards had struggled with leadership on the floor. Rookie Bradley Beal has as many starts (11) as nine-year veteran Emeka Okafor. Both have already moved in and out and back into the lineup as the Wizards have had four different starting units and constant changes in their rotation.
Washington's blowout loss to San Antonio prompted Wittman to switch things around. He allowed the players to control the conversation before and during practice the next day, doing the same when the Wizards went into halftime tied with the Trail Blazers at 43-43, and it was welcomed.
"I let them talk," Wittman said. "?'What is positive on the floor? What's giving us trouble?' Them to tell me. That's the process we're trying to get. ... If we've got guys that have a way to tweak it and make it better for them, they are the ones that can do it, and I'm always for that interaction from my players."
Wittman is also beginning to find a group of players he trusts on the floor. After the curious choice to start Jan Vesely recently in four straight games, Wittman dropped last year's underperforming first-round draft pick to the end of the bench against Portland, calling on the long-armed 7-footer only to guard an inbounds pass at the end of the game.
In practice Tuesday, the players told Wittman they weren't prepared to let him accept responsibility for the mounting losses. In their play the next day, they showed him they wouldn't.
"We changed our whole mental approach, and we just need to continue to ride with it," swingman Martell Webster said. "We were definitely an underdog. We're definitely looked at as the losers in the league, but that's OK. We believe in each other, and that's the only thing that matters."