The one area in which the Wizards have been consistent in these last few years, as they've arranged their pieces to have cap space to make a major run at a prized free agent such as Kevin Durant, is decisiveness. That couldn't be more evident in coming to terms with Scott Brooks on a five-year deal worth $35 million.
Rewind to last summer when Paul Pierce opted out and left after one season for the L.A. Clippers. The Wizards shifted to Otto Porter as their starter at small forward after having traded up for Kelly Oubre a month earlier for long-term depth there and then brought in veterans Alan Anderson and Jared Dudley to fortify the position within days of free agency opening.
Rewind two years ago, when Trevor Ariza was a free agent. He wanted more years (four) than the Wizards were offering (two) at roughly $10 million per season. They let him walk and quickly pivoted just hours later to replace him with Paul Pierce.
Rewind three years ago, when I reported the Wizards would give John Wall, who'd yet to make an All-Star Game, a max extension. Wall is regarded as a legitimate max player now but it seemed absurd to some at the time. After the Wizards settled their free-agent needs in the first three days of July -- Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Garrett Temple -- they came to terms with Wall on a designated player, five-year deal two weeks after opening the negotiating window. Soon after Al Harrington was bought out of his deal with the Orlando Magic, the Wizards pounced to sign him, too.
Not all of those moves panned out but none handicapped the Wizards long-term except for Webster when his back and hip betrayed him one year into his deal. At least that was at a manageable $5.5 million. Maynor was an unmitigated disaster but he luckily only cost only $2.1 million as he was the first backup point guard to accept the offer on the table when C.J. Watson and Beno Udrih hesitated. Harrington was at the tail end of his career as his right knee was damage by staph infection and while he had a few moments he didn't play much. He cost the vet minimum of $1.4 million.
The Wizards will be criticized for rushing into things too quickly, but when a franchise hadn't made the postseason in six years prior to the 2013-14 season quality veterans weren't exactly running to sign up and play. Calculated risks were OK as long as that salary was off the books by the summer of 2016 when Durant is unrestricted and plenty of other quality talents such as Nic Batum and Al Horford are on the market.
With Brooks, it's not viewed internally as a similar gamble -- or a gamble at all. He's a known quantity who has won 62% of his games, been to the conference finals three times, the NBA Finals once, won an NBA title as a player and comes highly regarded for his ability to connect with today's players. In his last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, minus Durant for 55 games, Serge Ibaka 17 games and Russell Westbrook 15 games, they still won 45 (and James Harden was long gone).
President Ernie Grunfeld had a vision with how he wanted the locker room culture to shift and a defensive identity to return. There's no comparison between Brooks' demeanor and personality and Wittman's. It's like contrasting Stephen Curry's jump shot to Tony Allen's. Both are jumpers but the delivery and results aren't the same.
Brooks had received interest by way of phone calls from Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, CSNmidatlantic.com was told Thursday night. The Wizards felt compelled to act quickly before their biggest threat in the Rockets, who are in a first-round playoff series and unable to meet with Brooks yet, could scoop up the coach who won an NBA title with them as a player in 1993-94.
Tom Thibodeau, who joined Minnesota's staff earlier this week, was the No. 1 coaching free agent this offseason with Brooks solidly entrenched at No. 2. At least, that's how most around the league saw it. For the Wizards based on how they perceived the job fit, Brooks was the top coach and was paid accordingly (and that dollar figure has zero to do with the salary cap). Brooks has gotten his teams deeper in the postseason and more consistently than Thibodeau, who has a sub-.500 playoff record, and won 54% of them.
The next step after the Wizards retool the rest of the coaching staff (Brooks will assemble his own staff) is to determine everyone's role. While Brooks isn't the type to rule with the iron fist, make no mistake that the Wizards should have at least one assistant to counteract Brooks' good-cop posture.
Wall admitted there was far too much bickering in their 41-41 letdown of a season when there was a clear dividing line between players in the locker room. About two veteran players who can create a healthy fear and tension to keep things in line would establish a good support system for such an assistant, and it wouldn't hurt if Grunfeld is definitive from the beginning that if there's a repeat of the nonsense that polluted the 2015-16 season that all 15 jobs in the locker room are at stake.
There's a new voice in town in Brooks and he has job security. If the same problems persist, there's no blaming this coach.