The basketball gods threw the kitchen sink at Wes Unseld Jr. during his first year as an NBA head coach in Washington.
Nagging COVID-19 issues, season-ending injuries to his two best players, and perhaps most importantly a hodgepodge roster which had little experience meshing as a unit were all obstacles Unseld Jr. had to overcome in 2021-22.
Now that he’s got a year under his belt, he’ll take those experiences in stride as he prepares for what he hopes will be a postseason run next year. At the core of his preparation is an emphasis on constant communication with his players.
“You can’t communicate enough. Not that it’s bad, but the fact that they want it more, it’s a big piece,” Unseld Jr. said last week. “That daily communication [is] just constant. Good, bad, indifferent — sometimes it’s nothing more than just catching up. It has nothing to do with basketball. They want to feel like there’s that connectivity, and I think that building that relationship is a big piece and having a longer offseason will help us allow for more time.”
When coronavirus hit and the NBA’s entire modus operandi was thrown for a loop, the offseason was hit hard. Time off was limited to just 71 days between the Los Angeles Lakers’ bubble championship in 2020 to the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign, making it the shortest offseason in history among all big four American sports leagues.
Pushing that 2020-21 season back naturally caused a shorter offseason break last summer as well. All told, this upcoming summer will be the first true offseason NBA players will get to enjoy since 2019. For players like the Wizards’ young trio of Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert, that extra time off could do wonders for their development.
But that isn’t limited to just players. A rookie head coach could also use a bit of time off to aid his preparation for his second season at the helm of the Wizards. Unseld Jr.’s offseason plan is centered around communicating with his roster. When asked if he was planning on visiting players over the summer, no matter where they might be, he didn’t hesitate to convey his plan.
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah, you have to,” Unseld Jr. said. “Cause it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, I want everyone here,’ but I think meeting them on their own turf, on their own terms I think is great. It gives you an insight into what they do offseason, gives us an opportunity to kind of connect with some of the people they work with, to help facilitate some of the things we want. So I think that’s a big piece in continued development.”
The summer of 2022 will prove to be as useful for Unseld Jr.’s development as a coach as it will for any of his players. Heading into next season, increased communication and a matured rapport between players and coaches could yield dividends on the court.