Wizards Have A Coach: Saunders Signs

Flip Saunders has officially agreed to become the 22nd head coach of the Washington Wizards, according to an NBA front office executive. After several days of speculation and suspense, Saunders finally signed his contract with the Wizards Tuesday night for a reported four years and $18 million.

The Wizards will make an official announcement on Wednesday and are expected to introduce Saunders at a press conference on Thursday. Saunders takes over a team that is recovering from miserable, injury-plagued campaign in which they matched the 2000-01 team for the worst record in franchise history (19-63) and finished tied with the Los Angeles Clippers with the league's second-worst record.

Saunders, 54, has had successful stints in both Minnesota and Detroit and has the seventh-best winning percentage (.597) in NBA history among coaches with at least 900 games. He reached the playoffs in 11 of his 13 seasons as a head coach and guided both the Timberwolves and the Pistons to the conference finals. After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third consecutive season, Saunders was fired last June after the Pistons lost to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in six games.

The Wizards stripped Ed Tapscott of his coaching duties last Friday and plan to move Tapscott to another position in the organization. Tapscott went 18-53 after replacing Eddie Jordan on Nov. 24. Jordan was fired after starting the season 1-10, but had led the Wizards for four consecutive trips to the playoffs.

By Michael Lee |  April 21, 2009; 8:11 PM ET
Previous: Who's a Keeper? | Next: Flip Looks Like a Good Fit


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Great so who will be his assist him Sam Cassel, Randy Whitman

Posted by: brandonjamal13 | April 21, 2009 8:16 PM

News flash 2 - Tomorrow will be Wednesday.
He definitely should win at least 50% more games, perhaps more.

Posted by: lrmc623 | April 21, 2009 8:29 PM

Another mediocre, offensive-minded coach who doesn't emphasize defense will continue with a mediocre team. Hard-nosed Avery Johnson was the better choice. Grunfeld is losing his touch.

Posted by: mojoct | April 21, 2009 8:59 PM

He better win 100% more games, at a bare minimum. The would be 38 wins. He better get this team to 45-50 wins!!

Posted by: Chad32 | April 21, 2009 9:00 PM

This will not solve defensive issues.

Posted by: jmdewitt | April 21, 2009 9:02 PM

good move and a definite upgrade...I was one of the one's who really liked EJ (as a human and a coach), but I think it's hard to argue that he was a better coach than Flip. So far EG is making smart, steady decisions...

Posted by: cedric_lockhart | April 21, 2009 9:17 PM

When we get defensive players, then we will solve that problem. With the way the roster is set now that is not going to happen.

Posted by: damone1972 | April 21, 2009 9:19 PM

Now how about a GM that knows how to handle the trenches, and put some order to the madness in the Washington locker room... 'cause too many Presidents and Vice Presidents ain't cutting it. I nominate Tapscott who knows both sides of the organization.

Posted by: evenadog | April 21, 2009 9:52 PM

All you folks that keep harping on Defense first.

You got your sports mixed up.

Dis' iz' basketball not football.


Trust me, If I'm good with my offense, I'm gonna be good with my defense. Not the other way around.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 21, 2009 10:13 PM

With a 587-396 record in the NBA with 4 Conference Finals appearances in 13 years we will have to agree to disagree about Flip being a mediocre Coach. I like the hire.
Phoenix hired a defensive Coach for a good offensive team (which the Wiz are when healthy) and it didn't work so Steve Kerr went back to an offensive coach but it was too late and they missed the playoffs.

Posted by: jeremybozz | April 21, 2009 10:16 PM

Interesting. Flip has the 7th best regular season winning % in NBA history.

Posted by: jeremybozz | April 21, 2009 10:19 PM

Awesome news! Flip is a terrific basketball mind. For those who think he isnt any good, look at what happened to Minnesota and Detroit after he left.....they crumbled to pieces. If this team can stay healthy, they can do big things next year.

Posted by: Roman5 | April 21, 2009 10:46 PM

Best coach signing since Dick Motta. More moves to come. Stay tuned.

Posted by: ptp23 | April 21, 2009 10:54 PM

A wonderful hire! I still don't understand why Eddie Jordan had to go, but Flip is a great replacement.

Posted by: Dellis2 | April 21, 2009 11:02 PM

Did anyone see Eddie Jordan on WaPo Live today? He was very complimentary of Flip and said the players should really like him.

Posted by: Lisa_R | April 21, 2009 11:41 PM

For those of you who think this is a bad choice, aske the T-Wolves and Pistons how they are doing without Flip?

Posted by: paulb3rd | April 21, 2009 11:41 PM

"Did anyone see Eddie Jordan on WaPo Live today? He was very complimentary of Flip and said the players should really like him.

Posted by: Lisa_R | April 21, 2009 11:41 PM "

What else would you expect him to say?

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | April 22, 2009 1:35 AM

"All you folks that keep harping on Defense first.

You got your sports mixed up.

Dis' iz' basketball not football.


Trust me, If I'm good with my offense, I'm gonna be good with my defense. Not the other way around.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 21, 2009 10:13 PM "

C'mon Larry, you're embarrassing yourself.

Name the last team that won a championship ring without playing solid defense?

Also, in regard to your last statement, Les BouleS were good with their offense about 3-4 seasons ago....no defense to speak of though...how far did they go?

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | April 22, 2009 1:37 AM

Nothing against Flip Saunders, but it's an uninspired choice, neither party seems that excited about it. I think Flip was a lot happier when he was signed by the Pistons, he's just grabbing the money.

Posted by: twigmuffin | April 22, 2009 4:06 AM

Looking at the Wiz season, you can't help thinking about those two games with Arenas, a victory and a loss. As rusty as he and Haywood were, the Wiz were a different team with those two guys in there. If the gods smile and they get some real help in the draft, and maybe from another of their young players -- who knows? Next year could be a significant improvement.

That's the good news. The bad news is, there are a lot of ifs involved.

It all starts with the medical report. I maintain the NBA season is too long, especially if you're lucky enough to make the playoffs. It's a war of attrition for these thoroughbreds. How many of the veterans make it all the way through without injury? Not just the IR sort -- but also those pulls and strains that limit performance on the court. The older your squad, the more likely that sort of situation.

That's the value in a younger roster. Of course they're not immune to injury, either. They do recover faster.

It's a much bigger problem for a new coach like Flip Saunders than defense. You can get teams that aren't naturally defensive-minded to play good team defense, as Boston demonstrated last year. But without good health, you're always swimming upstream.

The most amazing thing to me about the Spurs long run is how healthy they've been. Until this season, I mean.

Let's hope the Wiz have some luck next year,

Posted by: Samson151 | April 22, 2009 6:24 AM

Yes I agree with the Motta redux thought on Flip... eerie parallels.

Now if we could just get an Elvin Hayes redux. Maybe Amare or Chris Bosh would do :-)

Posted by: khrabb | April 22, 2009 8:32 AM

You've got to be a great defensive team in order to be a championship-caliber team.

Antawn on what the Wiz need to do next.

I've been a huge Jamison supporter, but his comments this year have grated on me. Oh, the irony! Jamison preaching defense!

Can Flip get him to actually play any? I think Antawn believes he's beyond criticism, because he's a productive vet.

He spent the whole season bellyaching about the kids' lack of professionalism. He never, ever (that I read) pointed the finger at himself and said "I've got to actually start trying on the defensive end." Everything that happened was the fault of others. To me, that's not veteran leadership. That's veteran whining.

His comments ring hollow until he starts showing real leadership by shoring up his own weaknesses. Frankly, I hope he keeps his mouth shut for the rest of the offseason.

Posted by: keithward64 | April 22, 2009 8:55 AM


I agree with you completely. I Love Jamison, I really do. But I didn't really see him as a true leader this year. It's easy to be a leader when we are making the playoffs (even if it was 1 rd and done). This season was the most challenging to be a wizards player, fan, and/or coach. That's where leadership comes into play. The season was lost early on, the vets should have been trying to spend a lot of time mentoring these young players so next year when we're healthy we can do some damage. Jamison can talk all day long about defense but as everyone else pointed out he doesn't play any. Jamison is a scorer and can make some great offensive plays but he's a defensive liability. Personally, if we could manage to land Blake Griffin, I would move Jamison to the 3 spot and let Black be our PF.

I won't say the whole season was a waste because I saw some young players on our squad who I think can become solid players. I liked what I saw out of McGee, he's very raw, but can you teach someone to have that height, length, and athleticism? No you can't but you can teach them fundamentals and to become a better, smarter player. I personally like the Flip hiring because I think Flip will be a great teacher to some of these guys and help them utilize their potential.

Posted by: DCSportsFan28 | April 22, 2009 9:22 AM

Samson151 wrote, "I maintain the NBA season is too long"

I agree. I always thought if NBA Players Association is smart, they should negotiate less game even if it means pay cut. They make enough money already; their health should be more a concern.

Posted by: sagaliba | April 22, 2009 9:26 AM


Why are you surprise that Jamison is preaching defense? Jamison preaching defense is just like EJ preaching defense. They both recognize the importance of defense, just couldn't execute it!

Posted by: sagaliba | April 22, 2009 9:30 AM

Flip is a solid coach with a successful resume. He just hasn't made the finals. I still think it was a good hire and the players will buy in.

Posted by: thecomedian1 | April 22, 2009 9:39 AM

Sampson151, I think the bottem line is that the injuries and Eddie Jordan's handling of injuried players was one big reason for his firing. The second was his inability to develop and trust younger players. In a way they are both extensions of the same problem.

Eddie was an old school, trust my vets, and play em into the ground kind of guy. He was never able to take the long view of a season and develop and trust a bench. When a core guy went down the next body was just plugged in his place. If you didn't have a bone sticking out, you weren't hurt, so get back in there.

Arenas, Butler, and Jamison's minutes played were always really high, in the mean time guys like Stevie Blake walked because of, quess what! Lack of consistant playing time!

Jordan's handling of Arenas's first comeback was unexcusable, he racked up 40min + games and played in a back to back in the first week back.

I don't understand the opinion that Suanders is a poor defensive coach. His track record in Detroit just doesn't bear that out. Look at Detroit since he got canned, Dumars has had to face the bitter truth. His veteran core got old. But Flip even maintained Detroit's strong defensive play after losing their defensive anchor Ben Wallace.

That's no simple feat. The guy can flat out coach, and is still young for a coach, and still hungry, he hasn't gotten that ring despite getting to the conference finals 4 times.

Avery Johnson has a very short head coaching record and managed to alienate a veteran team very quickly. Despite that Avery could have been a good hire, I doubt he'd have been a better hire.

If Cassell and Wittman are signing on too, it sounds like Suanders has a free hand to assemble a top notch staff as well.

Now Ernie can turn his attention to lucky rabbits, Voodoo Dolls, Rosary Beads, or whatever his lucky charm of choice is. Once the lottery order is decide he can get down to serious roster rebuilding.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 22, 2009 9:41 AM

I cant get over how many negative nancy's there are here. Some of you guys need to take a chill pill and recognize the glass as being half full instead of running around claiming the sky is always falling. The guy just got here, let him get moving and then place judgment.

Flip is a solid choice and I for one look forward to next season.


Posted by: WizardsExtreme | April 22, 2009 9:44 AM

"C'mon Larry, you're embarrassing yourself.

Name the last team that won a championship ring without playing solid defense?

Also, in regard to your last statement, Les BouleS were good with their offense about 3-4 seasons ago....no defense to speak of though...how far did they go?

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | April 22, 2009 1:37 AM "


Never said there was a Team that won a championship without good defense. What I said was is that no Teams will be winning any Rings without good Offense first and foremost.

You see thats whats wrong with you Defense Gurus. You want to give Defense the credit when a Team wins it all and not understand the fact that great Offense has always been the Major Player.

The best year that the Wizards had was the same year that Gilbert got his knee rolled up on.

The last year they went to the playoffs, he was still hurt.

There best forte was their Offense, but Eddie Jordan did not realize that, and did not know how to incorporate Defense into his coaching philosophy.

When they were quote, good, they weren't really because Eddie, even though folks think he was a good coach, made egregious coaching decisions, which was why he needed to be rightfully fired.

One egregious mistake he continually made was to forsake the entire effectiveness of Team play for individual play that he thought was better.

Playing Etan Thomas instead of Brendan Haywood gave up any chance of any interior Defense atall. So what Haywood was not the dominant center that he wanted, but, Haywood was and is a legitimate NBA center and the Team played better with him on the floor from day one. Furthermore, Haywood is a Center, not ETAN and DARIUS. We had other centers to backup Haywood.

I know what Defense is and it ain't going nowhere without good Offense first. You find me a coach that does not have great Offensive play, but good Defensive play, he want have any Rings to show for it.

Pat Riley has a few Rings, but he never did it without exceptional Offensive Play. He had a chance in New York, but he gutted the best Offensive play the Garden had seen since the Pearl and Reed.

The Offensive Chemistry of that Team with Mark Jackson at the helm and Ewing down low was majic, but he traded Mark and kept John Starks. If Pat defense Guru Riley had kept Mark Jackson, he might have another Ring.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 22, 2009 9:51 AM


I agree with you this time. I don't on Tyler Hansborough though. Anyway, in my opinion, the Show-time Lakers were not a great defensive team, they had great offence. James Worthy was like Antawn, a 3/4 tweener. Kareem was old and not great defensively. Magic was great, but not on defense. He couldn't keep small point guards from penetrating similarly like Gilbert can't. John Thompson built the Hoyas on defense early on because he couldn't recruit the great offensive players at that point. Georgetown made defense fashionable. The problem came when everybody started playing defense and Georgetown had no offense. That's when Georgetown went down. You can get great offensive players to at least compete on the defensive side, but you can't make Bruce Bowen a great offensive player. People need to stop trying to make the Wizards a great defensive team. The Wizards need to just compete more on defense. I believe they will because next year is the year everything should fall into place, barring injury. The young players will not play as much because the atmosphere will be about playing for a top seed in the east, not a lower playoff seed.

Posted by: G-Man11 | April 22, 2009 11:02 AM

this guy was fired twice!,once by his best friend in min.you flip lovers had better take the blinders off,because this guy wont be any better than ole eddie j.

Posted by: billydee123 | April 22, 2009 12:33 PM

I can't argue with Flip's record of wins and losses but he hasn't shown that he can assemble his own defensive unit that wins games. Unless Randy Wittman is a defensive guru, they're gonna have problems playing defense unless they hire somebody who knows how to motivate a young, lazy squad to play some D.

Also, until the Wizards realize that Jamison and Butler play basically the same position, they are gonna have a starting five that is a defensive liability. Jamison is a tweener who can't run with the 3's and is too small for the 4's, so he's always getting his hide handed to him on the defensive end. His grit and #'s compensate somewhat for the fact that he has no post-up moves and only scores 3's and garbage points. The tandem of Butler and Jamison don't have the Pippen/Jordan skill set, so one of them needs to come off the bench or get traded for a big post-up scorer and rebounder on that front line---cuz Haywood aint it.

If Blake Griffin is gone, do they take Thabeet, S. Curry, Rubio with the 2nd pick?

Posted by: mojoct | April 22, 2009 3:25 PM

I agree with a lot of previous sentiments.

Flip is a solid hire. This is a lot like the Motta hiring. The Wizards would get their Elvin Hayes if they can draft Griffin. A big problem with the Wizards is defensively Jamison is too small to defend most PFs well. I don't give Butler a pass, either, because his effort on defense leaves a lot to be desired, too. I really agree with Larry In Clinton, that Jamison and Butler essentially play the same position.

Also said earlier, the biggest problem Flip could encounter could be health. The health of Arenas, Haywood, and I'll say Caron, who's injury prone, will be the difference between 40 wins and maybe way up in the 50 wins.

As for he argument about defense, I believe the Wizards only need to put effort and sound strategy into their defense. One thing EJ did that really bothered me was he played a small at C and had the perimeter players collapse inside. The Wizards gave up the highest opponent three point percentages in NBA history. Flip's zone defensive schemes should greatly improve the perimeter defense.

Overall, I think Flip should have a great deal of success next season. I think McGee's a stud athlete who as an earlier commenter said can learn the fundamentals.

If health and good fortune in the draft are with the Wizards, I think they'll go far in the playoffs for years to come under Saunders.

Posted by: kennyh46 | April 22, 2009 6:51 PM

mojoct, if they don't draft Griffin I hope the Wizards draft Steph Curry.

His dad had a long, successful NBA career and I think the son is even more talented. I see Curry being able to handle NBA PG well. He's a pure shooter but also averaged something like 7-8 assists at Davidson.

I believe Curry's underrated. In the NBA he won't be triple teamed in college. He should be a very solid G off the bench from day one. A huge upgrade over Mike James or Javaris Crittenton. I hope Steph Curry is the pick if the Wizards don't land Griffin.

Other option the Wizards have is to draft Rubio or Thabeet and to trade them to other teams for some combination of salary cap relief and later picks.

Posted by: kennyh46 | April 22, 2009 6:59 PM

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