So after opening 1-10 to match the worst start in team history, the Wizards fired coach Eddie Jordan and his top assistant Monday and gave director of player development Ed Tapscott his first NBA head coaching job.
"That's an unacceptable record, obviously," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "We thought the change needed to be made. We needed to do things a little bit different."
With that in mind, Grunfeld phoned Jordan and delivered the news -- after the coach spent Monday morning distributing turkeys during a team charity event. Grunfeld then informed Tapscott -- who was at the arena, watching tape and preparing to help Jordan at practice.
Instead, Tapscott wound up running the session.
"Surreal," he said.
The coach at American University in the 1980s, and an NBA front-office employee for years since, Tapscott will make his professional coaching debut Tuesday night against the visiting Golden State Warriors.
"We're better than 1-10. We know it. But we're all responsible," Tapscott said at a news conference, a whistle dangling from a string around his neck.
He was given the title of interim coach and will run the Wizards until the end of the season, when Grunfeld said he plans to "evaluate everything." Associate head coach Mike O'Koren also was fired Monday; Randy Ayers will be Tapscott's top assistant.
Jordan, the Eastern Conference's coach at the 2007 All-Star Game, was in his sixth season with the Wizards. He led the team to the playoffs each of the past four -- the longest postseason streak for a Washington coach since Dick Motta did it from 1976-80. Under Jordan, though, the team made it past the first round only once.
In September, shortly before the start of training camp, the Wizards picked up a one-year option to keep Jordan under contract through the 2009-10 season. That, along with the key injuries to Arenas and center Brendan Haywood, were reasons Jordan's job was thought to be safe -- and why Monday's move came as something of a surprise, despite the team's record.
"I don't think any of the players saw it coming," Haywood said.
Asked if he was shocked by the firing, co-captain Antawn Jamison bristled and replied, "Why wouldn't I be shocked? The team is 1-10, not the coach. Next question."
The Wizards have struggled to even be competitive at times this season, with Arenas recovering from his third operation on his left knee in 1½ years, and with Haywood out for perhaps the entire season after surgery on his shooting wrist.
"Other teams in the league also have injuries," Grunfeld said.
Washington opened 0-5, then beat the Jazz at home to avoid the first 0-6 start in franchise history.
That victory, though, was followed by another five-game losing streak. The Wizards' record matches the worst start in franchise history; the only other time the team was 1-10 was in 1966, when it was called the Baltimore Bullets.
"It just felt like we were going in the wrong direction," Grunfeld said. "It felt a little bit stale and we needed to freshen it up."
The final straw for Jordan appears to have been a 122-117 loss Saturday night to the undermanned New York Knicks, who had only seven players available.
"We lost games we were supposed to win -- especially that one," second-year guard Nick Young said.
Tapscott vowed to emphasize defense and rebounding, and he wants his team to push the ball up the court on offense.
That isn't very different from what Jordan talked about, although without the 7-foot Haywood in the paint, Washington has been allowing 103.5 points per game, which ranks 27th in the 30-team league.
"We need to guard the rim, guard the lane, be a more physical team. It doesn't mean I think were going to try to turn greyhounds into Clydesdales. But we have not been a very physical team, and so we're going to try to play more physically on defense," Tapscott said after what he termed a hard practice. "We've been a little sieve-like."
While never before a head coach in the pros, Tapscott has plenty of front-office experience, including as president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats and, before that, as vice president of player personnel and basketball operations for the Knicks in the 1990s. He joined the Wizards' front office in August 2007 after spending a year as an analyst for the team's television broadcasts.
Tapscott was an assistant to current Maryland coach Gary Williams at American University in the 1970s and became head coach in 1982. In eight seasons at AU, Tapscott finished with 119 victories.
"We all respect him," Jamison said. "We know he has a great basketball IQ."