NBA PM: Have the Wizards Decided on a Coach?
It’s not the sexiest hire in the world, but the Washington Wizards appear ready to remove the interim tag from Randy Wittman’s title and officially make him head coach.
ESPN’s Ric Bucher originally reported the news on Thursday night and the Washington Post’s Michael Lee heard something very similar from another league source: “I think it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen… but nothing is official.”
Owner Ted Leonsis discussed Wittman—who has another year left on his contract—with Lee after Wednesday’s lottery.
“Randy is under contract,” he told the Post. “And right now, he’s our coach. And I was very impressed with the job that Randy did. But more importantly, I was impressed during the exit interviews. To a man, the players all felt that the way that we played after the trade wasn’t fool’s gold. It wasn’t the end of the season and other teams weren’t trying. That this was a serious team. A team that was playing for one another. A team that’s coachable and working really, really had and it started to see the lights turning on, that if they played the right way they would get results. So we started to take that into consideration, but the players really liked the coach and the staff. That speaks volumes on what decision we’ll have to make.”
Leonsis’ statement seems particularly meaningful given the coaching talent that’s on the market. Teams have their pick of Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Van Gundy, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni to choose from, but if the Wizards players (read: John Wall) will work hard for Wittman, then that’s the way the team will go.
Wittman, who had several good years with the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers as a player, went 18-31 after replacing Flip Saunders this season. He’s compiled a 118-238 record as a head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, but was fired from that job after a 4-15 start in 2008-2009.
Draft profile: Mindaugas Kupsas
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t want to learn Mindaugas Kupsas’ name and you don’t want to learn Mindaugas Kupsas’ name, but the 7-1 Lithuanian center isn’t giving us much of a choice.
Since participating in the Brooklyn Nets workouts on May 19th—where he was easily the tallest player in attendance—there’s been a lot of buzz around Kupsas’ name.
Some are surprised to see the practically unintelligible moniker dropped into this year’s NBA Draft. Kupsas weighs only 265 pounds, which means he needs to spend years lifting weights just to prevent himself from being pushed around in the NBA.
“They say I’m not so bad and all and can play but I need more power,” Kupsas told HOOPSWORLD.
Fortunately, Kupsas has time.
There are a few draft-and-stash candidates in every NBA Draft, and Kupsas seems like a good bet this year. In 19 Baltic League games playing for Baltai Kaunas, Kupsas averaged 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game.
He has a small—almost negligible—buyout with Baltai Kaunas, but NBA teams would obviously be wise to wait a year or two before bringing him over, just as the Chicago Bulls did with Omer Asik.
“I’m going to work on my body a lot, physical power and physical strength, I must improve these,” he said in his improving English,” adding that he needs “more muscles” and has to work on his “basketball skills.”
Interestingly enough, Kupsas has skills that even some first-round centers don’t possess.
Like Lithuanian legend Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kupsas has a jump shot. He also has a nice touch around the basket and isn’t a bad passer. Again, he has a lot of rough edges, but Kupsas moves well enough where he could feasibly be a solid defender. And since he prefers Kevin Garnett’s game anyway, nobody has to twist his arm to polish his skills on that end of the floor.
“Like Kevin Garnett from Boston because he does everything,” Kupsas said of the Celtics big man. “He makes shots, he blocks… he plays basketball with big emotions. He is the best player for me.”
There’s another reason that Kupsas is a good draft-and-stash candidate, and it has nothing to do with his game.
The truth is, this year’s draft is overflowing with potential NBA role players. Sure, we think that every year when we look at the sheer volume of players that declare, but 2012’s class has several impressive athletes, shooters and playmakers that might not even get picked.
And because there are so many role players in this year’s class, a team could potentially draft someone with upside, like Kupsas, stash them in Europe for a year or two, and sign a few specific undrafted free agents.
With the return of the NBA summer leagues, teams can now evaluate undrafted players for weeks before ultimately deciding to give them a contract or not, so there’s more insurance this year.
But whether or not Kupsas gets drafted in Newark this June, his personal mission remains the same.
“Just working out for NBA teams, trying to get through here and just trying to move forward to better leagues, to be a better player,” he said.
Orlando Woolridge passes away at 52
Michael Jordan was a rookie with the Chicago Bulls when teammate Orlando Woolridge averaged 22.9 ppg as a 25-year-old 6-9 forward. At the time, most people envisioned the pair playing together and possibly even competing for a championship some day.
But instead of making a career next to Jordan, Woolridge signed with the New Jersey Nets after the following season and bounced around the league until his retirement in 1994.
Woolridge died at the age of 52 at his parents’ home in Louisianna on Thursday. He had reportedly been receiving hospice care for a chronic heart condition.
One of the men who popularized the small dunk, Woolridge will be missed for his creativity and passion for the game of basketball.
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