This series will follow management’s head coaching missteps that have inevitably cost the Wizards adequate franchise development. First up...
In February 2000, the Washington Wizards named Leonard Hamilton their third head coach in five seasons. Hamilton came to Washington with a reputation for kick-starting college basketball programs, the most noteworthy of such being at the University of Miami.
Despite having no NBA coaching experience, the Wizards gave Hamilton with a five-year, $10 million deal with the Wizards, with the first four years guaranteed.
While it is difficult to forecast the success of “college coaches” at the next level, then President of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan had to feel modestly comfortable that the Wizards would improve upon a dismal 29-53 record from the preceding year. Jordan sought to recruit coaching talent from the intercollegiate ranks, soliciting (albeit unsuccessfully) then St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis, among others, before settling on Hamilton.
Hamilton never showed the ability to adapt to the pace and complexity of the NBA game. His roster didn’t help much, either, made up of the likes twilight players Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland; the disappointing Courtney Alexander; and local products Laron Profit and Jahidi White. The lone bright spot, arguably, was Richard Hamilton, who at the time was entering his second season. Richard Hamilton would lead the team in scoring on the season.
In addition to on-the-court ineptitude, Hamilton struggled to bring the Wizards’ veterans into his disciplinary fold, fighting small battles with players over insubordination and locker room disturbances. The results – fines and suspensions – would only further disrupt an already rocky season for the rookie head coach.
During Hamilton’s tenure, the Wizards would in the lower half of the NBA in points per game (18th of 29), opponent points per game (28th of 29), and overall record (27th of 29).
The Wizards would go on to finish an embarrassing 19-63 on the season, setting a new franchise record for losses. Hamilton resigned in April 2001, forfeiting all money guaranteed by his contract (nearly $6 million).