With the interim tag gone, coach Brian Keefe is focused on improvement and development in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly two decades after starting his NBA career as a video coordinator, Brian Keefe is now a head coach.

Of course, he actually began coaching the Washington Wizards a few months ago, but now the interim tag is gone and he can prepare for the many challenges that lie ahead.

“This game has brought me to places that I never thought I would have been,” Keefe said. “From a small town of Winchester, Massachusetts, to be able to travel and live the world and meet all these unique people and help them shape who I am. Tremendously grateful.”

Then general manager Will Dawkins chimed in.

“He won't talk about himself, but when we had that initial phone call, he was emotional, and you could tell how much it meant to him,” Dawkins said.

The Wizards formally introduced Keefe as their new coach Tuesday at a news conference on the waterfront in southwest D.C. Keefe first took over the team when he replaced Wes Unseld Jr. on an interim basis in January. Washington announced last week Keefe would stay on as coach.

The Wizards' record improved marginally with Keefe at the helm, but Washington still finished with a franchise-record 67 losses. For this rebuilding team, however, the won-loss record is secondary right now. Player development is what the Wizards are focused on, and that was a big topic Tuesday.

“Brian has a unique ability to see people and things for what they can be, not for where they are and who they are right now," Dawkins said. "When you think of our team and the phase that we're in, that's why that's really, really important. You've got to have that belief to put into people and see where it can go. We're in the bottom phase of building that foundation, I think put some of those blocks together this year.

“The bottom takes some time, and he knows that.”

Dawkins and team president Michael Winger took over the front office last offseason and traded away Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. That started the rebuild in earnest, and although the Wizards still have a talented veteran leading the way in Kyle Kuzma, it's clear the patience is in order.

Last year Washington drafted French guard Bilal Coulibaly, who doesn't turn 20 until next month. The Wizards also have the No. 2 pick in this coming draft.

Keefe started out as a video coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. He was an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder when they reached the NBA Finals in 2012, and Winger and Dawkins were also working for that organization at the time. Keefe joined the Wizards as an assistant last season.

It would be a while before Washington is ready to become a playoff team again, but that doesn't mean there's nothing the Wizards can accomplish this coming season. Individual development across the board is important, and Keefe's ability to relate to players received high marks.

“I think a lot of times players, if they don't understand the direction they're going in, what's the purpose of what we're doing, they kind of feel aimless and purposeless, and that's like the worst thing," said guard Jared Butler, who was at the news conference. "His ability to communicate what we're trying to do and the mindset we need to have, he's perfect for it I think.”

The Wizards went 8-31 under Keefe last season, but clearly the organization felt that wasn't the most important reflection of the work he did. And if 2024-25 is another struggle, it's still possible for the team to lay the groundwork for better days in the future.

“We're always going to be looking for what's best for our group now, but also what's best for our group going forward," Keefe said. "One of the things I think is, how can we best use our players? And that might not be right now. That might pay off in two years from now.”