Wes Unseld Jr., who was introduced as Washington's new head coach on Monday, joins a Wizards team where the needs are well-defined: They must get better on defense, and the communication and little parts of their game must be improved.
Both general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis were impressed by how much of an impact Unseld can make in those areas.
But perhaps most importantly his relationship with the team's stars, Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, is already off to a good start.
“I had great conversations with both of those guys, and I felt like I was talking to the same person,” Unseld said. “I say that because the message was clear: They want to be coached, they’re looking for accountability, they’re excited for this new opportunity. I think they both know offense is not the issue right now. We’ll see as we get into training camp and the preseason, there has to be carryover there.”
And the thing that struck Sheppard most was how Unseld had delivered in the past while coaching star players, or young talented secondary scorers that were on the precipice of stardom.
"When you look at his career, not just the time he was in D.C., but he worked with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they were young, with [Nikola] Vucevic, Tobias Harris, [Victor] Oladipo when he was in Orlando," Sheppard said. "And certainly, you look at the MVP season that [Nikola] Jokic had, and Jokic was begging him not to leave Denver."
When word leaked that the Wizards had interviewed Unseld, the phone calls started coming in.
"When players call you to tell you about, 'you should hire this guy,' unsolicited, that's pretty impressive to me,” Sheppard said.
Both Beal and Westbrook pointed to the defensive end of the floor, an area the Wizards need desperately to improve at for the 2021-22 season. Unseld said he was encouraged by the desire of those two to improve at that end of the floor.
And with the detail-oriented nature of Unseld’s style, the Wizards are hopeful they’ve got the right match in Washington.
“I can’t say enough about how meticulous Wes is,” Sheppard said. “We worked together so long ago. One thing that always stood out with Wes is his intelligence about the game, where the game is headed, the modern NBA, and certainly his proficiency on the defensive side of the ball, which is an area we must absolutely address immediately. I think that’s something he’ll deliver on.”