In defense of Flip Saunders
One of the least surprising results of a bad season is an outcry from fans to fire the coach. Calls for Flip Saunders’ job have become almost a meme on message boards, fan sites and in my e-mail inbox.
Complaints sound a familiar refrain: If only Saunders would play the right lineups, the team would win more games. Saunders has a double standard — he favors veterans and has a short leash on youngsters. Saunders is the wrong kind of coach for a young team — he needs a veteran team that’s ready to contend. He lacks the patience and teaching chops to develop youngsters.
Saunders began his head coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College where he went 92-13 — 56-0 at home. GVLC was a junior college — a level that requires teaching and player development.
After a stint as an assistant at University of Minnesota and Tulsa, Saunders coached for seven seasons in the CBA — a professional minor league. The CBA was by definition a developmental league. Rosters fluctuate frequently because of NBA call-ups and other opportunities for players. Success in the minor leagues requires the ability to work with youngsters, teach fundamentals, get players to buy into the system, and to blend individual talents on the fly.
Saunders won two CBA titles and was CBA coach of the year twice. He’s one of the best minor league coaches ever.
In the NBA, Saunders breathed life into a moribund Minnesota franchise, taking charge of then 18-year old Kevin Garnett. Last I checked, Garnett blossomed under Saunders and made the Timberwolves relevant for the better part of a decade.
Saunders also has been an effective “reclamation” coach. When Chauncey Billups arrived in Minnesota, it was his fourth team in four seasons as a pro. He was widely viewed as a bust. But that turned around during his two seasons under Saunders, and Billups continued blossoming under Larry Brown and then a redux when Saunders took over in Detroit.
Saunders has done a good job of resurrecting careers of guys like Terrell Brandon (on the junk pile after years of injuries), Shaun Livingston, and Latrell Sprewell. He also found roles and got serviceable play from scrap heap players nobody wanted like Dean Garrett and Bobby Jackson.
During his career, Saunders has worked successfully with every type of player, including crazies, All-Stars, minor leaguers, fringe players, developing talents, old pros, serviceable guys and valuable role players.
While fans may be frustrated with the results and with some of his coaching decisions, calls for him to be fired are misguided. Not only is Saunders an excellent coach, he may well be the best possible coach for this group of players. He’s experienced, he’s proven to be a great teacher of the game, and he knows how to motivate and inspire. If there are young players who don’t seem to be getting it, the place fans ought to be looking is at the players themselves.
| December 20, 2010; 8:56 AM ET
Categories: Kevin Broom, Wizards | Tags: Kevin Broom, Wizards
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