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An Outside Opinion on Flip

If you had some help, we could've won a few more games. (AP Photo/Andy King)

Before I finally caught up with Flip Saunders yesterday, I spoke with an Eastern Conference assistant general manager who told me that he thought Ernie Grunfeld made the right move in bringing the former Minnesota and Detroit coach to Washington. Of the available coaching candidates, the assistant GM said that Saunders and Eddie Jordan were at the top of the list -- "and they can't hire Eddie."

"I think he's a really good hire," the assistant GM said. "You don't want a rookie coach for that job. The time is now" for the Wizards.

Saunders, who has more 50-win seasons (seven) and playoff series wins (six) than the Wizards have had in the past 30 years, will be introduced as the 22nd coach in franchise history this afternoon. The assistant GM wondered aloud how a coach with Saunders's remarkable resume gets criticized for not winning a championship in Minnesota and later in Detroit.

"We don't really see a lot of negatives," he said. "From our standpoint, his teams were always ready to play. They were very prepared on both ends of the floor and really could execute. He likes having a veteran team, which any coach would like to have. He's an experienced coach and I think he gets a bad rap because people say, 'Well he hasn't won it or he hasn't done this or it took him so long in Minnesota to get there.' But they didn't have all the pieces they needed."

In Saunders' 10 seasons in Minnesota, the Timberwolves won at least 50 games four times although he had just three all-stars not named Kevin Garnett -- Tom Gugliotta (1997), Wally Szczerbiak (2002) and Sam Cassell (2004). In 2002-03, the year before Kevin McHale traded for Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, Saunders won 51 games with a starting lineup of Garnett, Szczerbiak, Anthony Peeler, Troy Hudson and Rasho Nesterovic. That team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in Garnett's and Saunders's seventh consecutive first-round exit.

"He always gets hit because he could never get Kevin Garnett that far in the playoffs, but I don't think he had talent," he said. "[Stephon] Marbury was there and then gone. Chauncey [Billups] was there and then gone. They had stuff like that all the time. And KG is good, but he can't go score 40 a night. He's not like Kobe and LeBron, those guys that can put up those types of numbers. And when he did get the guys in Minnesota --Sprewell and Cassell -- he did get to the Western Conference finals. He's kind of proven if he gets some players, he'll be all right."

As for Saunders's inability to take Detroit over the hump, he said, "That isn't the easiest group to manage at times. Rasheed and company can be difficult."

When I mentioned to him that the Pistons had the much better team in 2007, when they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the assistant GM interrupted me and brought up Game 5 of that series, when LeBron James scored 48. "The superstar had a phenomenal game, one of the best in the history of the playoffs."

The assistant GM also spoke about Saunders's style on both offense and defense. Saunders is noted for his motion offense and his ability to exploit mismatches. When the league first moved to zone defense, Saunders was quick to utilize the matchup zone, but he used more man-to-man defenses in Minnesota and later Detroit. Saunders received a lot of criticism in Detroit mostly because he followed Larry Brown, a stickler on defense who jumped on his players for every little mistake.

"I don't think you can say his teams are top five defensively, but his teams are really solid," the assistant GM said of Saunders. "I'm looking at the type of team Washington has -- they've got veteran players, they've got length, they've got size -- his system fits them pretty well. They should be better defensively. They should be very good offensively, from an execution standpoint. I thought Eddie always did a pretty good job offensively. I thought he had a good mind. Flip does too. He's different. He's got more sets and more direction."

"It's a good hire," he said. "Flip's done it and he's won consistently."

By Michael Lee  |  April 23, 2009; 11:03 AM ET
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Next: 'The Process Starts Today'


The T-Wolves gave that huge contract to Garnett and made the bumbling "contract in a desk drawer" to Joe Smith that cost them badly. They didn't have the ammo to go out and surround Garnett with a winning squad.

The Pistons lost Ben Wallace to the Bulls in another poor contract offer that Dumars was probably smart to not match. Even though Flip lost his cornerstone defender the Pistons were amoung the elite defensive teams.

Blatche, Young, McGuire, Crittenton, and Pecherov will all be in at least their third year. With only McGee in his second year, and one or two picks in the draft that will be rookies. The excuse of inexperience won't hold water next year.

These guys better come to camp ready to roll, if Wittman's on board he'll work'em!
They better be ready to go because Flip's got a big playbook to install and he'll work them overtime to get it in.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 23, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The more I'm finding out about this hire, the more I am liking it.

I ain't gushing like if they hadda' hired MARK JACKSON, but I think I am feeling just as good.


GM, I am ready.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 23, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Flip will probably bring a much tighter rotation than we have seen in recent years, especially towards the end of the year, so let's play pick 'em. You get 8.

Arenas, Jamison, Butler, Haywood, the pick, Stevenson, McGuire, McGee... and to cheat at my own game, Crittendon for the 10 minutes a game Arenas doesn't play.

Posted by: GshawnJohnson | April 23, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Flip's job will be made a LOT easier if Grunfeld parlays that lottery pick into either a young rebounder or a trade for a veteran who plays a physical defensive game at PF.

Forget drafting shooting guards and small forwards, that's not what this team needs.

There aren't enough basketballs for the players the team already has.

Posted by: leopard09 | April 23, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I disagree Leopard, I think a lock down defensive wing with range is a top priority - like Stevenson except better. That's obvious hole in the starting lineup, and keep in mind we will be seeing Wade and LBJ in the east playoffs, assuming actually contending is our eventual goal.

Posted by: GshawnJohnson | April 23, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Leopard and Gshawn I agree with you both.

We do need a new rebounder at the 4 spot (someone like Glen Davis that Boston has would be perfect).

We also need a guard that can hit the 3. This guard doesnt need to start, but must be very good at the 3 (40%+), I am thinking someone Radmonivic.

With Gil's driving ability, and his new pass-first montra, having a shooter to spread the court would fit very nicely.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | April 23, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

D Stevenson could well be the key to this teams success.

"IF" he and the rest of the "big 5" come back healthy all year It's gonna be real good.

When Deshawn played and was healthy, he was effective and knew his role.

Keeping this bunch together was a priority for EG & AP. Everyone will be on the same page. Teams that stayed together for a couple of seasons are usually very successful.

If it goes down the toilet then look out.

Posted by: VBFan | April 23, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Is this guy like LaCanfora? who cares what another team's GM says?

Posted by: tramellcanady | April 23, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Hey VBFan the only key I would trust DS with is the key to the restroom. He is postively the worst #2 in the league. This franchise is already the laughing stock of the league, 19 wins is absurd no matter what the reasons, and DS is right in the middle of it. If he is on the team next season, or anyone like him, I will not attend one home game.

Posted by: dandyhuffman | April 23, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

@GshawnJohnson & @m1ke3i6

I agree with you both. A good 2/3 defender and dependable outside shooter would help this team a lot. I still say we go after Raja Bell in a trade. He fits both of those packages, and isn't overpriced.

Posted by: segastyle | April 23, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

How can you blame the 19 win season on DS???
He was out most of it and hurt the games he did play in.
I ain't saying he's the best 2 going but he complements the other 4 nicely. The first season he was here he was considered a huge steal by EG.

Posted by: VBFan | April 23, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

We need both a tough rebounding, defensive minded 4 and a SG who can hit the 3 and play tough D. I don't see D. Stevenson returning to his form of two seasons ago so this becomes a need unless NY suddenly learns how to play D and to be a spot up shooter. Trading on No. 1 if it isn't going to be Blake Griffin for an established vet who can fill one of those roles makes sense for a team whose window is closing fast (and may have already!). I don't see anyone besides Griffin providing an instant impact from the draft and EG isn't looking at a rebuilding job. He is probably already thinking trade and seeing which team would take Etan off our hands along with our pick for a veteran 4.

Posted by: wizfan89 | April 23, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse


I love the Raja Bell idea.

If we could come into next season with a Raja Bell type player and a BIG rebounding PF, (b/c honestly ATJ and Blatche get pushed around so much its a joke), that would go a long way towards the Wiz playing meaningful games in April.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | April 23, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Driving lanes for Gil will not be there if they don't get more knock down shooters. They need to add more than one, since they have zero now. I like the Raja Bell idea. DMac could be, he should do nothing this summer but catch and shoot. We could have the next Bruce Bowen.

Posted by: kfrazec | April 23, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Looking for a rebounding forward???
How one that averages 9 per game and 22 pts. and 35% from 3pt line.

It's gonna be hard to find someone like that.

Posted by: VBFan | April 23, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

The last thing the Wiz need is another standstill jumpshooter. They really need someone on the team other than Arenas who can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket off the dribble to get easy baskets, create playmaking opportunities, and get to the foul line. Another guy who stands 20 feet from the basket like a statue and lets it fly is really not going to help. They need to become less of a jumpshooting team, not more.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 23, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to say what it would take to get Bell from Charlotte, with Jordan in office, and Brown on the sideline, it's hard to predict their personnel moves - both have a fairly bad track record, IMO. Brown loves defensive minded vets, so he probably likes Bell...

Posted by: segastyle | April 23, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Watched the news conference, one difference I see right away, Flip's not afraid to state what he expects from players up front.

I don't really agree with the window closing on the Wizards idea. Jamison is the only Vet in the plans with any real age. And he's not playing old. If Suanders can get production out of the young group, the Wizards window could just be opening.

Add another core young player like Griffin, or Thabeet, and there could be a core that could be here for quite awhile together.

I like the idea of having a guy like Cassell to work with Young and Crittenton, those two could be real keys to this team's improvement. I see the potential for a deadly three guard rotation along with a healthy Arenas.

Flip will teach guys the right way to defend and he will get defensive effort out of them. Critt reminds me in ways of a young Larry Hughes, back in the days when Hughes was more of a slasher when he first came to the Wiz.

To me that's still the ideal type of guy to pair with Gil. Young has only to learn to play within an offensive system and to bring defensive intensity. Tappscott should get some credit, down the stretch the light started to come on with Young.

Young has the ability to catch and shoot, or go to the rack himself. And like Butler, he's got a sweet mid range game. If you've watched Suanders teams in the past, he loves to put a guy in position to get that mid range jumper.

This isn't an old team like Suanders took over in Detroit, this is a young squad that needs a winning coach to show them the way. This team's best years could still be two or three years down the road. And McGuire, Blatche, Young, Crittenton, and McGee could all be part of that growth.

I haven't even given up on Pecherov under a good coach. If Suanders can win starting some of the big stiffs he had in Minn. He can sure find a role for Opec.

Washington needs to get out of the "window is closing" and "We've got to win now" mode, and settle down and learn how to build a winner. Win now teams always think they're just one move away, and they're useally one move away from disaster.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 23, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

The issue with the Wizards isn't necessarily whether the window is closing, it's whether the window is even open in the first place.

The "win now" mode is clearly a reflection of urgency coming from Pollin. He's an ailing old man whose time is short. He wants the team to win a title before he dies. He's said as much more than once. He's clearly not in the position to sit through a slow, tempered rebuilding process. As long as that's the case, I don't foresee anything changing much.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 23, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Is this guy like LaCanfora? who cares what another team's GM says?

Posted by: tramellcanady | April 23, 2009 1:31 PM


I do. I mean, I take it for what it's worth, but it's definitely worth something. In theory, the GM should be the foremost expert on the game. Sure you might prefer a media analyst, but the fact of the matter is, they're paid to be spectators, whereas GMs are paid to be responsible for a team's success and failure. So is there a better expert out there than a GM?

Mostly devil's advocate there. After all, it was an assistant GM he interviewed, who may very well SUCK at his job. But it's not like we'd get the interview AND his name. Oh well. Looking forward to see it come true.

Posted by: crs-one | April 23, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I am just glad that we have a coach before the draft. A good hire. Which current assistant will be out of a job?

Posted by: Doobie_Sparks | April 23, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

McGuire definitely needs to be moved into the starting line-up next year in favor of Stevenson. If we can't offload Stevenson, why not have him be the leader of our second unit?

Posted by: funkydancinmonk | April 24, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I am actually glad the Wizards lost so many games and have a chance at a very high draft pick for a player of significance or trade bait. The opportunity of hope under a new "veteran" coach would not have been there if Eddie Jordan had a chance to "just missed" the playoffs with this group of players. Instead, we basically have the chance to retain the previous talents that underachieved by not playing defense or smartly and the chance to draft a player of significance. No more "What If"s with this team next year, it is ever perform or blow it up!

Posted by: JohnWWW | April 25, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

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