- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Washington Wizards parted ways with Flip Saunders on Tuesday and named Randy Wittman as interim head coach. Washington has the NBA’s worst record at 2-15, and it was evident that the players stopped responding to Saunders‘ message.

“I felt like, at this time, our players were not responding, and I think we needed a different voice,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said at a news conference at Verizon Center. The decision to replace Saunders was his, Grunfeld said, and that owner Ted Leonsis gave his approval.

“Our young players probably haven’t developed as quickly as we’d like for them to develop, and we also need to play a style that complements their abilities. We have a very long, athletic team that can maybe go up and down a little bit more,” Grunfeld said. “The most important thing is we have to give a good, consistent effort on a nightly basis.”

Inconsistency has plagued the Wizards. They started the season being run out of the gym en route to an 0-8 start, but then began to play with a little more energy and competitive fire, giving rise to the belief that wins would follow.

Washington dropped close games to Boston, New York and Denver, then pulled off an upset over Oklahoma City. The Wizards have since been embarrassed by Chicago, Orlando and Philadelphia.

Grunfeld was quick to add that the switch from Saunders to Wittman does not change the team’s overall plan, to build through the draft, gain salary cap space and develop the young players.

“We knew what we were getting into when we decided to build with a lot of young players; now we have to get consistency throughout the lineup,” Grunfeld said.

As Wittman prepares to take over a group that clearly had tuned Saunders out, it’s safe to wonder if Wittman will fare better. But despite their longtime working relationship, Wittman said he and Saunders have different personalities.

“I think the reason Flip and I have been successful together throughout the years in the NBA is we are kind of polar opposites, and you have to have a staff that is mixed like that,” Wittman said. “The strengths and weaknesses of the staff is just as important as the strengths and weaknesses of your players.”

Wittman plans to retain the rest of the Wizards‘ coaching staff and said he already had met with a few of the players, including John Wall. Wittman stressed more than once that he would have left with Saunders if he didn’t believe he could help turn this team around.

“There’s got to be change. We’ve got to change,” he said. “I’m not the miracle worker here. We’ve got to change our outlook on how we play. Development happens in the practice floor. You have to earn what you get out on the game floor.”

Wittman is looking for a consistent competitive effort from the players, and a stronger sense of accountability.

“You have to prove that you deserve to be on the floor,” Wittman said.

Despite the dismal record, Wittman still sees some positives on this team, but player attitudes must attitudes must change as well.

“This is not an easy transition,” Wittman said. “But I know what change needs to happen to try make this a positive transition. Is this a happy day? No, by any regard. A good man walked out the door today.”

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