The Washington Wizards formally introduced Wes Unseld Jr. as the team's new head coach on Monday, over one month after the franchise didn't reach a new contract agreement with former head coach Scott Brooks.
Speaking on The Sports Junkies on Tuesday, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said part of the reason the process of finding the next coach took so long was because of the number of interviews they conducted for the job.
"We did 18 formal interviews and did another eight over the phone, just 1-on-1 with people that weren't really excited about getting their name out there but we're definitely interested in the job. We had a ton of interest," Sheppard said.
Washington was the last of seven teams with a vacancy this offseason to come to an agreement with a new head coach. But late last week, the franchise hired Unseld Jr., the son of a franchise legend and also one of the most experienced assistants in the NBA.
"We went about it pretty thoroughly, pretty thoughtfully, and where we arrived was at a fantastic, young head coach that has been putting in the time and doing everything he could possibly do," Sheppard said. "Not a self-promoter, but somebody that was ready for this job."
Washington was not the only team that expressed interest in Unseld Jr., either. He had two formal interviews with the Orlando Magic for its vacancy as well. Orlando ultimately decided to hire former Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosely for the gig.
Unseld Jr. is well-respected league-wide and had been one of the longest-tenured assistants in the NBA, waiting for the right opportunity to become a head coach. For Sheppard, seeing all the work Unseld Jr. put in as an assistant was something he could personally relate to.
"I waited a long time to get a job as a GM," Sheppard said, who served as the Wizards VP of basketball operations for 16 years under Ernie Grunfeld before becoming his successor in 2019.
"I think you just need the opportunity," he continued. "What Wes has done in his career, not just what he did in Denver but what he did in Orlando before that, Golden State before that and Washington, he's been preparing for that moment his whole career."
Unseld Jr. has worked alongside Sheppard in the past, too. The Wizards' new head coach served as an assistant with the organization from 2005-2011. Sheppard said the two have always had a "great relationship."
"He was always somebody that you knew when it came to preparation, he was never going to be outworked," Sheppard said about Unself Jr.'s first stint in D.C. "He was never going to be not prepared. He was fantastic with in-game adjustments. He's a head coach's dream because he was always sitting next to them with all the answers whenever they had the questions."
Most recently, Unseld Jr. served as an associate head coach for Mike Malone in Denver, a job that Sheppard thinks really allowed him to "find his gym voice" and take on more responsibility than he ever had before.
The Wizards general manager feels that Unseld's latest coaching stint truly prepared him for his newest, biggest job yet.
"I think Malone did a great job in Denver giving him so much responsibility," Sheppard said. "He's been a head coach in waiting for a while."