The Washington Wizards have promoted top assistant Brian Keefe to interim head coach for the rest of the season, replacing Wes Unseld Jr., the team announced Thursday.
The Wizards are planning a full-scale open coaching search in the offseason.
Keefe joined the Wizards’ staff this season after stops with the Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. During his time under two different coaching staffs with the Thunder, he worked with Wizards president Michael Winger and GM Will Dawkins in OKC. Keefe was a part of the 2012 Thunder coaching staff that advanced to the NBA Finals.
The Wizards plan to keep Unseld Jr. in a front office role. Winger and Unseld had discussed the coaching change in recent days, and the organization wants to keep Unseld Jr. — son of Wizards Hall of Famer Wes Unseld Sr. — in a long-term capacity with the franchise.
It is expected that the Wizards will be seeking a coach with an extensive player development track record when they conduct a wider offseason search. The Wizards are 7-36 and undergoing a full rebuild under the new front office regime of Winger and Dawkins.
“After several thoughtful conversations with Wes, we determined together that a change was needed for the benefit of the team,” Winger, the president of Monumental Basketball — which includes the Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics — said in a statement announcing the decision.
“Wes embodies the characteristics we value in our organization, and his vast basketball experience will be an asset to the front office as we progress toward our long-term goals. We are thankful that he will continue his contributions to our organization and community.”
Unseld was in the middle of his third season as head coach of the Wizards, going 77-130 before Thursday’s announcement. The Wizards have particularly struggled defensively this season, ranking 29th.
Washington hired Unseld prior to the start of the 2021-22 season after close to two decades as an NBA assistant with the Wizards, Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets, where he was Michael Malone’s top assistant before returning to the franchise his father led to its only NBA title in 1979 before later serving stints as the team’s head coach and general manager.
Back in October, Washington picked up Unseld’s option for next season.
Last summer, Winger replaced longtime executive Tommy Sheppard as the head of the Wizards’ basketball operations, and quickly moved to reshape the franchise. He traded longtime face of the franchise Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns for a package of draft picks and Chris Paul, before re-routing Paul to the Golden State Warriors a few days later in exchange for Jordan Poole, signaling the start of a long rebuild in Washington.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.