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The Wizards screwed themselves by playing it safe

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The Wizards kept Randy Wittman after he led them to a modest level of success despite his poor track record beforehand. They are paying for that mistake this year.

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A psychologist could have a field day studying the NBA coaching decisions made in the 2014 offseason. You had a few teams like the Wizards, Rockets and Pelicans that kept their incumbents, despite withering reviews from the analytic community. Then you had situations like Golden State, where stability was tossed out the window in large part due to interpersonal relationships (or the lack thereof). That model was copied once the season began when the Kings canned Michael Malone, who'd done well but wasn't an obvious ace.

In some cases, the status quo worked out. Houston GM Daryl Morey stuck with Kevin McHale after a first round playoff ouster, and now the Rockets are one of the top three teams in the West and a top-five team in the league, despite huge injury problems. Morey and the Rockets valued stability over higher upside from a more innovative coach and it paid off.

It hasn't exactly worked out that way in D.C. Randy Wittman has taken the Wizards to places the team hasn't been in nearly a decade, which certainly acts against any grand shakeup plans. Ask the Warriors' management team, who faced a whole lot of heat for replacing Mark Jackson after he led the most successful run in decades. Steve Kerr's incredible success has quieted the criticism to less than a murmur, but if the Warriors weren't blowing the doors off the league, you'd be hearing a whole lot about Jackson and Golden State's rash decision-making.

That said, the Wittman calculus is a little different. No one actually seems to think Wittman is a great coach. His career-record as an NBA head coach is .390. He's had one winning season out of five full campaigns, with his second in six on the way. He did win a playoff series last season, a rarity for the Wizards. But the overall reviews on Wittman as a tactician, as a motivator, as a teacher are iffy. What exactly does he bring to the table? What is stability worth if said stability is mediocre?

Perhaps it's unfair to pin the Wizards' state -- completely middling -- on Wittman. General manager Ernie Grunfeld, one of the longest-tenured personnel bosses in the NBA, hasn't exactly availed himself well. The team's wing rotation is shallow and the Wizards are a mess whenever Bradley Beal or the aging Paul Pierce miss time, which is often. Washington is also featuring heavy doses of Ramon Sessions and Drew Gooden.

A contrarian might note that the Wizards are better than last season and are in comfortable playoff position. But with John Wall having a near All-NBA season, Beal looking great when healthy and a frontcourt battery featuring Marcin Gortat and Nene, you'd hope for more in the weak, shallow East. There's a case to be made that despite heading toward the No. 5 seed, the Wizards have been the third-most disappointing team in the conference (behind the Hornets and Knicks). That's largely on Wittman.

What it ends with is a wasted season, since Washington won't get out of the second round in the event they even make it that far. They'll fall short of expectations and again be forced to consider whether to embrace stability or pull the trigger on a change.

We all grouse that few coaches get time to blossom these days, that the turnover is way too high, that management is too rash. The Wizards present the argument for rashness. We just know when some coaches don't belong and there's no reason to delay the inevitable. That's something the Wizards should have considered last summer.

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