The Washington Wizards dismissed head coach Randy Wittman after missing out on the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, the team announced Thursday.
"There were high internal and external expectations for this team coming into this season based on the momentum we had generated over the previous two years," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the team's performance and effort, particularly on our home court, did not allow us to meet those expectations and we decided a coaching change was needed."
Wittman was informed of his dismissal Wednesday night after the team's season ended with a 109-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, according to The Associated Press. Wittman went 178-199 in 4½ seasons with the Wizards, a .472 winning percentage.
"Randy should be commended for the job he did in taking over as head coach during a very difficult time for our franchise and for helping to establish a culture and identity that led to success," Grunfeld said in the statement. "This was a very tough decision on a personal level, and we wish Randy and his family the best moving forward."
NBA coaching sources tell ESPN's Marc Stein that former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks is widely regarded as the Wizards' preferred choice to replace Wittman, at least partly to assist with Washington's long-held plan to chase D.C. native Kevin Durant in free agency.
After the season finale Wednesday, Wittman was asked about his job status and offered a defense of the job he did in Washington.
"I love this job," he said. "I'm going to come to work until they tell me I can't. I'm proud of what we've done here. I took over 4½ years ago, and this was a sideshow. And we slowly changed the culture of this team. And we had a slip-up this year.''
He continued: "I'm proud of the work that I've done here. I really am. I'm proud of our guys. They played hard all the way to the end, playing for nothing. They gave me that. I'll be here first thing in the morning. So if you want to come by, I'll be here.''
About an hour later, Wittman could be heard near his office, offering a goodbye to a team employee.
Next season was to be the final year of Wittman's three-year contract, which paid him more than $3 million per season but was not fully guaranteed.
"To the fans, I fully understand that we did not live up to your expectations this season," Wittman said in a statement Thursday. "One of my greatest disappointments is that we were not able to bring a championship to the great city of Washington, D.C. But through it all, I truly believe we have built a solid foundation and this team is headed in the right direction."
Grunfeld talked to reporters Thursday and acknowledged the Wizards felt they had taken "a major step back" this season and "missed an opportunity."
"We were very inconsistent this year. That was probably the only consistent thing about us. We'd go up and down and there was no sense of urgency," Grunfeld said. "I don't think we played with the type of energy on a nightly basis that you need to, to achieve the type of goals that we had. We had high expectations, internally and externally."
Asked about where things stand with the team's front office, Grunfeld replied: "Well, I'm here. I'm going to be heading up the coaching search. And we're going to be here. We had a plan in place. We followed that plan. Obviously, there was a bump in the road."
Wittman took the team to the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons since taking over for the late Flip Saunders in January 2012, but the team's 41-41 finish this season was far below what prognosticators expected for the team this season.
Last season, the Wizards went 46-36 and were seeded fifth in the East for the playoffs. They knocked off the Toronto Raptors in the first round, then bowed out in six games against Atlanta after Wall broke bones in his left hand and wrist in Game 1.
After having success using Paul Pierce as a stretch-4 during those playoffs, the Wizards tried to install a full-fledged pace-and-space system this season, although they did it without Pierce, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent.
The strategy never fully worked. Washington's defensive play, the foundation of the success Wittman did have with the team, took a major step back this season, and injuries up and down the roster didn't help matters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.