WASHINGTON (AP) — With two simple words — "I'm here" — Ernie Grunfeld made clear Thursday that he would be sticking around as president of the Washington Wizards and picking the coach to replace the fired Randy Wittman.
Grunfeld, who has been with the Wizards since 2003, held a news conference a day after Wittman was told he wouldn't be back as the team's coach and the regular season ended with Washington at .500 and out of the playoffs.
"We took a major step back," Grunfeld said. "We all feel like we missed an opportunity."
He lamented several problems under Wittman this season, after having reached the second round of the playoffs the previous two years.
"We were very inconsistent this year. That was probably the only consistent thing about us. We'd go up and down and there was no sense of urgency," Grunfeld said. "I don't think we played with the type of energy on a nightly basis that you need to, to achieve the type of goals that we had. We had high expectations, internally and externally."
Asked about where things stand with the team's front office, Grunfeld replied: "Well, I'm here. I'm going to be heading up the coaching search. And we're going to be here. We had a plan in place. We followed that plan. Obviously, there was a bump in the road."
Grunfeld said "a lot of candidates" will want what he described as a "desirable" coaching job and some have "already shown their interest."
He hinted at the sort of coach he's looking for, mentioning the importance of finding someone who can improve the defense and implying that he would prefer someone with experience because "this is a team that's ready to compete right away." But he also said he wouldn't rule out anyone.
Led by All-Star point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal, Washington finished 41-41 and 10th in the Eastern Conference this season after attempting to shift full-time to a pace-and-space, small-ball system that worked during last postseason under Wittman.
"I made a decision," Wittman said Wednesday night about the switch in strategy. "Did it cost us? No, I don't think it cost us."
The success he had while in Washington was rooted in an emphasis on defense, but that faltered this season. The Wizards also were hampered by a series of injuries at various times.
In all, Wittman went 178-199 in 4 1/2 seasons with the Wizards, a winning percentage of .472.
Grunfeld said he would leave it up to the new coach to determine the best way for the Wizards to play and to pick a staff of assistants.
He also repeatedly noted that Washington has "a lot of flexibility from a financial standpoint" — a result of setting up the roster with mostly players on expiring contracts, something Wittman and Wall said they thought created a bad atmosphere.
"At times, with nine guys coming in on (expiring) deals, everybody wanted the last word, everybody wanted the last say-so," Wall said. "It's probably the ... team we had with the most, like, flare-up, little arguments."
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