Wizards fire coach Saunders, promote Wittman

Flip Saunders was fired Tuesday as coach of the NBA-worst Washington Wizards and replaced by assistant Randy Wittman, who has the job for the rest of the season.

The Wizards fell to 2-15 this season, including 0-7 on the road, with a 20-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. Washington's next game is at home Wednesday against the Charlotte Bobcats.

"We felt the team had become unresponsive, and we will look to Randy to provide a different voice and a change in philosophy moving forward," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement released by the team. "We have been transparent in how we would evaluate our team this season and we were disappointed in the lack of development of our players at this point in our rebuilding plan."

Saunders was in his third season with the Wizards, going 51-130. When he was hired, the roster featured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, but the franchise is now rebuilding around point guard John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

But there is not a lot of help for Wall, and the Wizards have been prone to inconsistent play, often failing to even be competitive this season. On Monday, they walked down the court for offensive possessions, never hustled after loose balls and couldn't convert the easiest of buckets, missing eight of nine shots in the paint in the first quarter.

After one string of sloppy plays, Saunders took a knee in front of the scorer's table, bowed his head and rubbed his temples.

After the game, Wall said: "Whoever got the ball just took a shot. Guys are holding their heads down, and we're not fighting or competing."

Back in December, before the lockout-shortened season began, Saunders tried to look on the bright said, saying he could envision how the young Wizards could improve on their 23-59 record from 2010-11.

"I want to compete for the playoffs," the coach said then.

But Washington got off to a franchise-worst 0-8 start — half of the losses were by at least 18 points — before beating the Toronto Raptors. Curiously, the Wizards' only other victory came against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Saunders tried finding different ways to motivate players such as Andray Blatche, who was made a captain for the season-opening game, and tinkered a bit with the lineup. But nothing seemed to get things going in the right direction.

Asked after what turned out to be his last game with Washington how he can change the way the Wizards are performing, Saunders said Monday night: "You try to put different lineups in, play a lot of different people, try to do some different things."

Before joining the Wizards, Saunders coached 13 NBA seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, reaching the conference finals a total of four times.

He was hired by Washington in April 2009, and given a four-year contract.

Wittman gets his third job as an NBA head coach, after going 100-207 — a .326 winning percentage — with Minnesota and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wittman was drafted by Washington with the 22nd overall pick in the 1983 draft.

"We have struggled as a team at times this season, but we have also seen a great deal of potential from our young players and glimpses of what we can accomplish together as a team," Wittman said. "The coaching staff will look to build on that by utilizing the length, athleticism and versatility of our roster to improve our defense and create more opportunities in the open court."


AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.