WASHINGTON — Randy Wittman learned long ago to focus on what he can control. That’s what he did over the past 2 1/2 years with the Washington Wizards.
Wittman’s approach helped turn the Wizards from pushover to playoff winners. Now he’ll have a chance to stick around following a 44-38 season, a 15-win improvement from last year, after the Wizards gave him a contract extension.
“I think over the last couple of years what we’ve begun to establish here, continuity I think is important,” Wittman said Wednesday in the hallway near the practice court at the Verizon Center. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity to continue on.”
The Wizards reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and won their first postseason series since 2005. They accomplished it in the final year of Wittman’s contract and under a preseason mandate to make the playoffs from owner Ted Leonsis.
“I was here when it was not pretty. When you see it change, when you see the things that you’ve implemented begin to work, you want to continue on,” the 54-year-old Wittman said.
Wittman guided the Wizards to a first-round win over the Chicago Bulls before losing in six games to the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“Over the last 2 1/2 years really, Randy has established a great culture, a hard-working culture, a defensive-oriented team,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “We’ve been a top-10 defensive team in the league the last two years. We’ve made good progress. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Asked if retaining Wittman was an easy decision,” Grunfeld stated,” Yes, it was.”
Having already coached rebuilding squads with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, Wittman took over as head coach when Flip Saunders was fired in January 2012.
As was the case in those other spots, losses starting piling up in Washington. Wittman has the worst regular-season record of anyone who has coached at least 400 NBA games — 191-329, a .367 winning percentage — since the league started in 1946.
“Job security is fleeting, as we all know in this business,” said Wittman, who played in the NBA for nine seasons. “If you worry about it, you’re not going to do your job well.”
With John Wall sidelined, the Wizards opened the 2012-13 season with a 4-28 record. When their point guard returned, Washington finished 24-25.
With Wall healthy and turning into a first-time All-Star alongside backcourt partner Bradley Beal, Washington ended the 2013-14 season fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Washington has plenty of decisions remaining. Two starters — center Marcin Gortat and forward Trevor Ariza — are unrestricted free agents. Overall, 10 players are entering some level of free agency or the organization must decide whether to exercise a team option.
Though Wittman and Grunfeld have stated a desire to the keep the core intact, the roster could certainly look different next season. But the man on the sideline will be familiar.
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