But beyond that, the Wizards may actually remember the 2011-12 season as a time when the franchise made the dramatic shift from a juvenile culture of laughing through losing and altered the course of their rebuilding efforts for the better.
The Wizards ended the season on a six-game winning streak and recorded their most lopsided win in seven seasons, 104-70, over the Miami Heat at Verizon Center on Thursday night.
“All we’re doing is moving forward and looking to the future and I think the future looks good for us,” said President Ernie Grunfeld, who was rewarded with a contract extension this week.
After two years, the Wizards (20-46) finally recognized the error of investing their future in the careers of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Young. Blatche was banished, while McGee and Young were sent packing to playoff teams because neither displayed the maturity or consistency to warrant lucrative long-term contracts when they hit free agency this summer. In return, the Wizards added veteran Brazilian big man Nene, whose arrival brought credibility to the locker room, a commitment to playing team basketball and an 7-4 record with him in uniform.
“You give anything a certain amount of time and options arise,” Wittman said. “It comes a point, with this team that’s so young, to add a guy with [Nene’s] experience and his ability was a good thing to do.”
But the epiphany to get more serious didn’t arrive until the team fired Saunders after a 2-15 start. Saunders’s tenure in Washington came to an end after 3½ seasons because he was unable to connect with one of the NBA’s youngest rosters or provide the necessary discipline for a group unable to police itself. Wittman came in with nothing to lose and employed a my-way-or-the-highway approach that got the players to respond, though wins didn’t come until the final few weeks of the season.
“It was hard,” said Wittman, who finished 18-31. “You’re going to lay some eggs, which we have, but they’ve been pretty resilient. I can’t fault them, for going through a trying time and trying to see what’s ahead. They’ve done that.”
The Wizards were certainly hamstrung by the lockout, because their young roster had no summer league, a short training camp and limited practices. Conflicting agendas early on also fostered an environment of individual play that was so unproductive that the phrase “selfish play” was used after nearly every loss.
“For some guys, it was contract year, wasn’t serious with the basketball as I think they should’ve been and with them being traded to veteran teams, it helped them,” John Wall said. “We didn’t have any veterans to get on them, they was the veterans. Now they are with veteran teams doing better and we’re doing better.”