I wrote a piece on Randy Wittman several weeks ago that was not necessarily an endoresment, but more of a call to suspend condemnation. I had reasons for the post at the time being: (1) Wittman was thrust into an inenviable position with (2) a team that underwent a monumental transformation (KG’s exodus and the influx of new players) shortly after he took control, that (3) continued, and still continues, to transform during his tenure. Despite those encumbrances, the team (4) improved slightly under his command as last season progressed and, most importantly, (5) the team seemed, to the casual observer, not to give up on him. Basically, I stated that I was not convinvced that Randy Wittman should be the coach of the Wolves going forward, but I was also giving him a chance now that the team seemed to resemble one that can move forward without major anticipated roster adjustments. However, I asserted that my main indicator of approval would be Wittman’s ability to establish a solid rotation.
Before I move on to a more firm stance in my opinions on Randy Wittman based on the criteria from that past post, I need to clarify my own position as a writer on this site and in my relation to professional basketball in general. Very rarely do I offer speculation or suggestion on where the team should go or what they should do. I do not work for the organization, I do not see the practices, I do not speak with the players, and I am not, nor do I aspire to be, a member of the media. Other than my ticket representatives, I don’t seriously anticipate any discussions with anyone that works for the Wolves (though I would welcome discussions with the dancers). There is also no doubt in my mind that Randy Wittman and the rest of the Timberwolves coaches and staff know infinitely more than me (and probably anyone that reads this) about the game of basketball and the NBA. Thus, my observations are limited to being (a) reactionary to what I see as (b) a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves, to a lesser extent the NBA in general, and to an even lesser extent, a fan of NCAA basketball.
That being established, my reaction is now this. Like with anything else, sheer knowledge of the subject matter does not equal effective application of that knowledge. In the past week, I listened to analysis on a KFAN show (I believe it was Sludge and Lake where Mark Rosen was a guest, but I don’t remember) in which one of the personalities referenced a conversation someone had with Bobby Knight who asserted that Randy Wittman was one of the smartest players he ever had. I won’t cast any doubt on that. His basketball intelligence has probably kept him in the league as an assistant for several years and as a two-time head coach. In my opinion, as a fan and from what I’ve seen, whatever high basketball intellect he possesses is not assisting him during the ebb and flow of the actual games. A coach has to form a gameplan, prepare set rotations around that gameplan, keep the roster motivated and ultimately make adjustments during the game. The players have to execute the gameplan, something I feel they’ve been doing better this season than last. I was also pleasantly surprised at the insertion of Telfair and Love into a starting lineup that wasn’t getting it done (though I will be less pleased if the lineup makes several changes without injury). This leaves in-game adjustments, and as a fan, I think Wittman has failed.
The most recent example in a history of similar situations occured in the Golden State game. The Wolves were down by as many as 13 in the third quarter. Wittman changed his lineup, the players made a comeback, and even took a nine point lead with about 2:30 remaining in regulation (the lead remained static from about the midway point of the 4th to that 2:30 mark). During the comeback and lead increase, the Wolves energy was up and they were making some outside shots. However, towards the mid-point of the 4th quarter, the shots quit falling and the run was over. Wittman left the lineup in that made the run, but didn’t make any moves once that team went cold. Aside from the fact that a couple of the players made awful shot selections with a lot of time left on the shot clock (McCants), Wittman failed to switch a lineup that could no longer make it’s shots nor protect its lead. This failure may or may not have led to a win, but in my opinion from watching the game, keeping those cold players in, probably lead to a loss. These situations cause me to believe that Randy Wittman, with all of his Bobby Knight certified basketball knowledge, is probably better as an assistance coach who doesn’t have to make these kind of in-game calls.
So where should the team go? Like I said, it’s not my place to say. Let’s just say from a business standpoint, this young team is substantially more entertaining than last year’s version and an extra win here and there may help sell a ticket or two.