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Wizards remove interim tag, hire Brian Keefe as new head coach

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Interim Head Coach Brian Keefe of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Capital One Arena on February 25, 2024 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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“I think he really galvanized the entire group... we weren’t very competitive as a group that first half of the season. There were a lot of games where the game was over at halftime, the game was over (by) the first six minutes into the second half. And we started to compete [under Keefe]. And that’s the biggest thing, right?”

That was how Kyle Kuzma described interim coach Brian Keefe, who took over the Wizards when Wes Unseld Jr. was fired midseason (quote via Josh Robins of The Atheltic). That was enough for the Wizards front office, who on Wednesday ended their search for a new head coach by removing the interim tag and making Keefe the new franchise’s latest head coach.

“We are excited for Brian to become our next head coach. Brian is a proven motivator and connector of people,” Wizards General Manager Will Dawkins said in a statement announcing the hiring. “As a leader in the organization, he will continue to positively grow and invest into the development of our players. His wealth of experience will help move our team forward as we build for long-term sustained success.”

Keefe didn’t rack up a lot of wins as the Wizards interim head coach (8-31), but he took over a roster low on talent that traded starting center Daniel Gafford at the deadline and dealt with injuries to players like Kuzma the second half of the season. What the Wizards said they wanted in a new coach was someone who connected with players — and the players, to a man, said Keefe did that — and someone who could develop talent and have that start to translate to on-court success more.

The Wizards are a roster undergoing change. A lot of change. The team has the No. 2 pick in this June’s NBA draft, plus they have young talent such as Deni Avdija as well as rookie Bilal Coulibaly, but a lot of roster building still to do. The Wizards are expected to once again check the trade market this summer for Kuzma, looking to bring back picks and young players to help with the rebuild, and they may do the same with Jordan Poole (although, after a rough season for the former Warrior the market for his services may be thin). The Wizards are finally going all-in on a rebuild rather than looking for short-term fixes, it’s the right move but it will take time.

Keefe is going to get the chance to lead that rebuild.