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Wittman: 'This team is going to win games'

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Wittman: 'This team is going to win games'

Randy Wittman is as frustrated as anyone by the Wizards’ horrid 0-8 start. But he has made a conscious effort to stroke his players’ egos instead of cracking the whip.

“You keep trying,” he said before Monday night’s game against the 4-7 Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center. “That’s the best way I can put it. All of a sudden something sticks, the light goes on, you get a win, it feels good and then good things start happening.

“That’s what I believe is going to happen. This team is going to win games. I really believe that. We’ve just been too close all eight games to lose faith.

“That’s what I tell them each day, that I believe, and now you’ve got to believe. That’s the main thing you’ve got to stress. I don’t get to play, but I believe and I’m going to stick with it.”

After getting a strong start from a new starting lineup in Saturday night’s loss to Utah, Wittman went back to that same starting five with A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford in the back court and Jan Vesely, Trevor, Ariza and Emeka Okafor in the front court.

Rookie Bradley Beal and Trevor Booker will come off the bench for the second straight game after starting the Wizards’ first seven games.

“We’re going to try different combinations until it works,” Wittman said. “I’m not going to just sit back and watch. That’s not my nature.”

The Wizards and Pacers are the NBA’s two lowest-scoring teams. The Pacers, paced by David West [14.9 points] and Paul George [14.1 points] are averaging 88 points a game. The Wizards, paced by Crawford [12.4 points] and Beal [10.9 points] are averaging 86.6 points.

“We’ve got to get a good pace to the game,” Wittman said. “They’re struggling to get up and down the floor too right now. They do want to set up in the half court with West and {Roy] Hibbert.

“If we can establish ourselves early like we did against Utah, we have to take advantage of that. Advance the ball up the floor and look to create opportunities in transition rather than waiting.”

One man pushing that pace will be Price, who enjoyed his best game of the season against the Pacers last week with 12 points, 14 assists and no turnovers.

“That’s going to be crucial again,” Wittman said. “He had no turnovers in that game and took the opportunity to be aggressive offensively for us. A.J. only plays one way and I think we’ve seen that since he’s been here.”

Wittman sat out Martell Webster in Saturday night’s loss to Utah but said he’s likely to go back to the 6-foot-7 swingman tonight.

“When you’re 0-8 you’re trying a lot of different things and that’s what I did,” Wittman said of his decision to leave Webster on the bench. “I thought he gave us a huge lift in Dallas in that fourth quarter and I hope to give him an opportunity this next game.”

 

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

The Wizards sought to add an assistant coach with a strong defensive track record this offseason and they did just that Saturday evening by hiring Michael Longabardi, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. 

Longardi, 46, has spent the last three seasons as a defensive coach on the Cleveland Cavaliers' staff. He was initially hired by former Cavs' head coach Tyronn Lue in 2016 when the team claimed their first championship in franchise history. 

Before joining the Cavaliers, Longabardi held assistant coaching roles with the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and most notably the Boston Celtics, in which he and Lue served under head coach Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau from 2007 to 2013.

Longabardi was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Xaverian High School, a private Catholic school. He then went on to play basketball at Newberry College where he earned the nickname "Mr. Defense."

Just a day after reports broke that Tommy Sheppard would be promoted to a permanent general manager position, the organization is making yet another move in hopes of improving overall culture and team defense.

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Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

The process took nearly four months, yet the Wizards ultimately didn't look far for their new general manager, as the team is removing the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard. The longtime NBA executive will now finally get a chance to run his own operation.

Sheppard may not have been the first choice among fans initially when it was announced he would fill in for Ernie Grunfeld, who was dismissed from his post as team president on April 2, but over the past few months he has acclimated himself well, showing in many ways he is prepared to lead a team as the top person in charge. He cleaned up the Wizards' salary cap situation as best he could, giving them some newfound financial flexibility beyond next season.

Sheppard did that while flooding the roster with young, cheap and high-upside players. And he did so by making some tough decisions, ones that helped demonstrate he can provide an organizational reset despite his role in the previous regime. 

Sheppard allowed Tomas Satoransky to walk in free agency despite being central in bringing him to the Wizards, first by scouting him overseas and then by convincing him to join the NBA ranks. He let Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker leave even though he was part of the braintrust that traded for them. And he traded Dwight Howard, again despite playing a role in bringing him to Washington.

Sheppard has operated with impartiality when the team needed him to. What he has done this offseason looks a lot like it probably would have if the Wizards had hired someone from the outside.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a "trial run," according to a person familiar with the process.

Sheppard worked closely with the team's ownership group, giving them written proposals for his plans that addressed goals, budget and contingencies. It was a collaborative effort to make the Wizards' roster younger, cheaper and harder working. They also set out to add more international players and accomplished that by drafting Rui Hachimura and by trading for Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

Sheppard impressed Leonsis especially during the effort to re-sign Thomas Bryant. Bryant has become a favorite of Leonsis' for his consistent effort, character and enthusiasm. Sheppard and the Wizards were able to agree with Bryant on a new contract the night free agency began. It was quick and painless.

Sheppard himself will be signing a new contract, NBC Sports Washington was told. And there will be major changes to the organizational structure announced this coming week. In the basketball operations side, the team will heavily expand their investment in analytics, by "triple" according to a person familiar with their plans. They will also beef up their scouting department with an eye on Africa and Latin America.

Sheppard has done a nice job for the Wizards but the real work in many ways about to begin. Dismantling an NBA roster is not as difficult as building a contender. Now he has to find pieces to build around John Wall and Bradley Beal that can help the team win something of substance. 

Sheppard will have to do that within the constraints of Wall's supermax contract. And he will have to sort out Beal's future, which could take a turn later this month. 

On July 26, the Wizards can officially offer Beal a contract extension worth approximately $111 million over three years. But there is a long list of clues that suggest he will not take the offer.

How Sheppard, Beal and the Wizards handle the fallout in the event he turns them down would be a test in itself. Maybe they spin it simply as Beal betting on himself. If he makes All-NBA next season, he could make well over $200 million with a five-year supermax.

For Sheppard, the hard work is about to start. He is set to guide the Wizards into a new era, one he and the team hope can reach a higher peak than the last.

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