SNIDER: Wes Unseld Jr. needs to restore glory


Can the son of the Washington Wizards' greatest player ever save the franchise from its generational malaise?

Wes Unseld, Jr. is the newest Wiz coach. His father led Washington to its only title in 1978 and three NBA Finals. The five-time All-NBA player and Rookie of the Year was voted among the top 50 NBA players ever.

But Unseld Sr. never came close to replicating success as a coach. He was 202–345 (.369) from 1988-94 and then saw only one playoff season as a general manager from 1996-2003. Like many great players, Unseld Sr. couldn't teach the toughness that served him so well.

So while the name Unseld is a golden standard among Washington fans, it comes with an asterisk that the son will try to erase. Unseld Jr. never played in the pros, but maybe he can surpass his father as a coach.

The Wiz desperately need someone who forces players to play defense. The team allowed the league's most points two straight years. While 126-121 games are entertaining, losing gets old and the Wiz have been a bottom playoff contender despite a better roster.

Enter the rainmaker. Unseld Jr. is well known as a coach capable of growing stars. He was credited with improving Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. in Denver as an assistant. Unseld teaches defense, but is also noted as an offensive planner.

Every coach has Xs and Os, though. Successful ones know how to create relationships. That's the NBA way now where players have more power than coaches based on enormous salaries. It's easier to change coaches.

Kudos for the Wiz not recycling an older coach, but finding an assistant who relates well with players. It's a big jump from assistant to head coach, but Unseld has been around pro players his entire life, so maybe he can get through to this roster that it's OK to play defense.

The roster is not championship-ready for a new coach to simply warm the bench. Bradley Beal has one year remaining on his contract and that can get touchy. Russell Westbrook is a sure Hall of Famer, but his endless drive too often has him playing one-on-five. The personal stats were good last season, but the team still sported a losing record.

So how does Unseld handle his two best players while also growing young stars like Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija? It takes an experienced hand to work the entire roster, something Unseld Sr. never managed.

Once at practice, a Wizard player's legs were undercut during a rebound and he landed horizontally so hard the player was crying in pain. Unseld Sr. called him a big baby, pulled him to his feet and soon the player walked away bruised but not battered. The coach was all about tough love that seldom works in today's society, much less with young players who have been coddled and told they were special since grade school.

How will Unseld Jr. handle this team that hasn't been a real contender since his father played more than 40 years ago? Hopefully, the son of a hardcourt warrior is here to lead.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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