Highlights From Saunders News Conference
From Zach Berman at Verizon Center:
Quick highlights from Flip Saunders's pre-training camp news conference...
- The dominant topic, as you'd expect, was star guard Gilbert Arenas's health and Saunders's relationship with Arenas. Saunders, who has been in frequent contact with Arenas and visited him this summer, said he does not see a difference between Arenas now and Arenas three seasons ago. Saunders said he's been honest with Arenas, which has helped the relationship.
"I've challenged him from the standpoint of not only being a leader, but also putting himself to be a mentor for some of the younger players at his position," Saunders said. "I give a lot of responsibility to the point guard, and they almost have to think like I think. We've had a lot of conversations, and I've told him I'll be harder on him than probably anyone else. Because I have higher expectations. He's like the quarterback on the team. He's got to get people in the right spots, they got to be there, and if they're not, he's the guy that's going to look bad as far as far as running the team."
Saunders said he will monitor Arenas during training camp like he does with most veteran players, which is simply observing them and getting a sense of how they are feeling. He will do the same with DeShawn Stevenson.
Saunders said Arenas's health had no bearing on his taking the job. He plans to play Arenas "strictly as a [point guard]." He wants Arenas to maintain his aggressiveness.
- Saunders has set the bar high for the Wizards, who finished with only 19 wins last season. Injuries were the team's downfall, but Saunders believes this group can make a deep playoff run.
"I think if we stay healthy, we should be able to compete in the east for a lead spot," Saunders said. "I think a lot's going to depend on us staying healthy. Boston's saying the same thing if they stay healthy. I think every elite team - Orlando's saying the same thing if Jameer Nelson comes back healthy, Cleveland's saying is Shaq going to stay - so every elite team, health is a big issue. You want to make sure you have depth in case you have some tweaks along the way. But I don't think there's any reason we shouldn't be able to compete with elite teams in the east - or in the league, for that matter. We got a lot of weapons. We got a lot of adaptability with our players. We got a lot of players who can play a lot of different positions. We can play fast, we can play big, we can play methodical in the half court if we need to. We'll find out in another week."
- Saunders was very pleased with Nick Young's summer, based on what Saunders saw in Las Vegas. He said Young has size and quickness, moves well without the basketball and is a good shooter. During the summer, Saunders saw Young make a conscious effort to play defense.
He expects to show Young game film of Rip Hamilton and Reggie Miller. He cited Kevin Garnett and Gilbert Arenas as players who learn from watching film of others.
"Players are like coaches - we steal from everybody," Saunders said. "And that's how you form your own philosophy. You take a little bit from everybody and form your own. Players to do that, too. They take a little from everybody and get who they really are."
- Saunders joked that he was thinking of determining the starting shooting guard spot with a reality television show, where they get voted in and out. Saunders provided levity because the position is crowded with options.
"It's going to be competitive," Saunders said. "My 2s and 3s are pretty much interchangeable, the way the offense runs. People will say 'there are two 2s' or 'there are two 3s'. That's the way it goes. Usually, what happens it's the guys who play the best together -- not the best player."
He said he wants his shooting guard to be able to shoot and defend his position.
- Saunders spent his season away from basketball waking for the University of Minnesota basketball practices at 7 a.m. He became an NBA fan and watched games and became "like the media. You're never wrong."
He said he became truer in his convictions about the way his teams play. Saunders never had any questions about whether he'd become a coach again. He considered the NBA and college and thought the Wizards presented the best opportunity.
- Saunders said in the past, he has remained with eight or nine-man rotations. That won't change with the Wizards despite the team's depth.
"I don't think you can go and start playing 12 guys every night, because then guys don't get in a rhythm," Saunders said. "If you're 10, 11, 12, you got to work to get in that top nine. Are there going to be times when that 10, 11 and 12 are playing? Yeah, because as I said, we have a team where players bring stuff to the table. Somebody as your 11th guy, he might be a better matchup and might play 24 minutes, 25 minutes because of the matchup. So, I think you have to be open along those lines and be able to adapt to your team. But the main guys have to know they're making the majority of the minutes."
As much depth as the Wizards seem to enter the season with, defense has been a past concern -- and remains a priority for Saunders.
"I've never had the weapons I've had on this team," Saunders said. "I'm even more excited because I think we can take a major step defensively and become a very solid defensive team. I think they'll see that when we start playing from day one."
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