Exactly one month after the Washington Wizards parted ways with Scott Brooks after five years on June 16, the organization is moving ahead with contract discussions to make Wes Unseld Jr. the organization’s 25th head coach. The family legacy goes without saying, but the younger Unseld has more than proven himself worthy of a head coaching opportunity without any need for nepotism. WUSA 9’s Darren Haynes reported the news first.
Looking down proudly today.
— Hoop District (@Hoop_District) July 16, 2021
Unseld, 49, started his NBA career as a scout for Washington in 1997 until 2005 before becoming an assistant under Eddie Jordan that ran until 2011. He also assisted the Warriors (2011-12), Magic (2012-15), and Nuggets (2015-21) where he was most recently an associate head coach to Michael Malone. Before all of that, he was running around after Bullets practices when Wes Unseld Sr. was on the team before moving onto front office and coaching roles. It’s the welcome home story that feels good after the elder Unseld passed at 74 last summer.
The Johns Hopkins graduate will represent a coach that will connect with the DMV community, which cannot be understated, but he will have the imminent challenge of selling Bradley Beal on the Wizards organization beyond next season. Both Beal and Russell Westbrook have player options for the 2022-23 season and the former will have a 5-year max offer at 35% of the cap from any NBA team he desires. Similar to the tense Damian Lillard in Portland situation, Washington could find themselves in a similar spot where loyalty and time have run out to build a true contender around their anointed franchise player.
Tommy Sheppard knows the Wizards cannot simply run it back as there is a clear talent discrepancy between them and the real Eastern Conference contenders, but with limited salary cap space or assets to trade, if Rui Hachimura is untouchable, Unseld will be working with a similar roster as last season where Scott Brooks lost in the first round after a terrible start and admittedly miraculous turnaround. If Washington falters early, the team Unseld is coaching in the following years may look very different.
The biggest reason for a lack of success under Brooks was the defense where Washington was in the bottom 10 in the league all five years. Despite being known for his offensive mind as an assistant for the Wizards over a decade ago, Unseld has been lauded for his defensive strategy recently and that is much needed in DC. The development of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. that Unseld played a part in will be a welcome sight for Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford, Deni Avdija, and the rest of the Washington roster. It will be interesting if Unseld keeps any holdovers from the Brooks staff such as David Adkins, Robert Pack, or others when the new head coach is building out his staff.
With the NBA draft less than two weeks away, Tommy Sheppard and the front office will get Unseld up to speed quickly as workouts have been ongoing nearly non-stop for the previous two weeks since the July 4 long weekend. Even with limited options as things stand currently in free agency, the Wizards will still look to make the most of their mid-level exception and possibly other moves starting August 3 and will need to get Unseld in the fold for that plan as well. Training camp will be here in no time at the end of September and the Wizards’ upcoming season will certainly have a long-term impact.