Washington Wizards will embark on a coaching search for the first time in five seasons.
Earlier today, the Wizards couldn’t reach a new deal with Scott Brooks and decided now was the best time to move on. It’s hard to second guess the Wizards on the decision. Yes, Brooks got Washington into the playoffs in three out of his five seasons but, his first two seasons in the nation’s capital, were the only ones where the team finished with a record over .500.
Just like any other organization, hiring a new coach signals a new beginning and, a lot of times, can give fans much needed hope. That is the case in Washington. The Wizards lag behind the Nationals, Capitals, and Washington Football Team in the competitive Washington DC market. What makes it worse is that the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) is a hot bed for basketball and somehow, Leonsis hasn’t found a way to make it a Washington Wizards town. At this point, this is head and shoulders his biggest failure.
Now the question becomes “who”. That’s where there’s the mix of excitement and apprehension.
If you seek out an experienced coach with a history of success, then he has to look at the current roster and the contract situation with Bradley Beal to determine if coming to DC will be worth it. A team without Beal and an aging, an probably unhappy, Russell Westbrook wouldn’t be a desirable situation for any coach. Would that be attractive to a coach like Mike D’Antoni?
Then there are coaches looking for another chance. That list includes Jason Kidd, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and others.
Would Tommy Sheppard want to bring in an experienced coach who would want a major say in personnel decisions?
The Wizards could go in the “first time head coach” direction. Do you make a splash and hire Becky Hammon or Kara Lawson? Then there’s Sam Cassell. A champion as a player who cut his coaching teeth in Washington as an assistant. There was talk earlier of interest in Wes Unseld Jr. Obviously the name alone, conjures up memories of the Bullets’ glory years.
Whoever is hired the first thing they need to do is jive with Beal. Keeping the 3rd All-NBAer is priority number one, two, a thousand. There’s also earning the respect of Westbrook. A few weeks back, Westbrook was seemingly endorsing Brooks, heaping praise for the Wizards’ recovery and playoff appearance.
If that’s not enough, what would the coach’s role be in the upcoming draft? There’s some risk depending on the timing. If you want an experience coach and you try to hire the person after the draft, you run the risk of the coach not having the same vision as Sheppard. If you hire the head coach prior to the draft, does Sheppard give the hire the voice the new head coach would want and, if it isn’t, what do you do with the last two draft picks (Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija).
If it’s a first time head coach, Sheppard could avoid the headache of an experienced voice in the room. Even then, Sheppard has to share the vision and, eventually, now the hire to put his or her stamp on the team. Do we know if Sheppard is willing to do that? If Sheppard demands that the coach fit his vision, that could limit the pool dramatically. No first time head coach want to feel like they’re being setup to fail because of someone else’s vision.
We haven’t even delved into Leonsis’ unwillingness to make quick/swift changes. So if the Wizards hire the “wrong” coach, you wouldn’t expect to see Leonsis do what the New Orleans Pelicans did today and fire their head coach (Stan Van Gundy) after one season. That puts even more pressure on Sheppard to get this one right.
The wrong decision could see Beal gone the second his contract ends. Next would be Westbrook’s departure and now the question becomes, how many years will it take just to be in contention for the 8th spot in the conference.
The ball is in the court of Sheppard and Leonsis… don’t blow it.