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Flip Saunders: 'This has been a very unique year'

In his time coaching in the Continental Basketball Association, Flip Saunders learned how to guide makeshift lineups and shuffling different players each month, week and sometimes day. In his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he led a lottery team that decided to change the look of a foundering franchise by ridding itself of veterans on big contracts (Christian Laettner and Sean Rooks) at the trade deadline. And, he dealt with disappointment through seven first-round playoff losses in Minnesota and three Eastern Conference Finals losses with the Detroit Pistons.

But no matter how much he has drawn on past experience, perhaps nothing could've prepared him for what has occurred in his first season with the Washington Wizards.

"This has been a very unique year, by anybody's standards," Saunders said, after the Wizards (17-33) decided to break up a team that he expected to contend with the conference's elite.

The Saturday trade that sent Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross and James Singleton has forced Saunders to make some adjustments to his game plan as the Wizards prepare to play their first game after the all-star break on Wednesday against his former team, Minnesota. But before the Wizards attempt to move forward, Saunders reflected on what led a team with such high expectations to founder so miserably.

"There's a lot of things that enter into it," said Saunders, who has previously pointed to injuries, the death of owner Abe Pollin, and Gilbert Arenas's season-ending suspension among the distractions to the team's journey. "Are we where we wanted to be and where we thought we'd be when we started? Definitely not. Am I disappointed about where we are from a team standpoint? No question. But I think on the other hand, as an organization, and [President Ernie Grunfeld] has shown this -- we're not willing to stand pat. This is it. It's always better to be proactive in your approach and that's what we've done."

While most observers have praised the move for the Mavericks, Saunders said that the Wizards still received some quality players in the trade.

"We're getting three guys who started in the NBA, as far as Gooden, and you look at Josh Howard and Ross, and a good young player in Singleton. Some of the things that we were looking at and we feel is important is guys who have the ability to play hard," he said, talking more in depth about Howard and Gooden.

"I always thought those guys were tough covers for us, whether we played Minnesota or Dallas. When Josh was there, he was a tough cover for us and he gave us a lot of problems, being able to guard him because he's a multidimensional player offensively. Defensively, he's always been a very good player. He's got long arms and he's active," Saunders said about Howard, who has been recovering from multiple injuries, which have caused him to struggle to regain his all-star form. "I think he's pretty healthy now."

"Drew, even in Detroit, the year Cleveland beat us, he gave us fits at power forward. We tried to get physical and rough with bigs when I was with the Pistons. Drew was the one guy we weren't able to do that with. He's a guy who seems like he can put up numbers to give us consistent play. In our conference, he can play some [center]. I think he's got good basketball instincts and is a good rebounder."

Saunders said incorporating the new players will take some time -- especially when he doesn't know what other trades the Wizards may make before Thursday's deadline.

"I think you really simplify things and try to rely more on concepts and what we try to do," Saunders said. "The one positive is that you do have four guys coming from one team. Those guys are somewhat comfortable playing with each other. And as soon as we blend everyone, these guys are going to try to come in hungry and try to show what they can do. The players that we have have to know that everything is pretty much up for grabs.

"It's almost like starting a mini-training camp," he said. "Playing time is going to be determined by the guys who want to go out there and really compete. I think that's going to make it healthy. And we've got a good core with us. And we hope we blend together as quickly as we can. We've got to have a little bit of patience, but we can't have too much ... even though it might not be too realistic because we've dug ourselves such a hole. But you never know what's going to happen over the last 30 or so games. We have to approach every game with the goal of trying to win every game we can."

I asked Saunders if he was baffled by how Butler seemed incapable of fitting into his system.

"In the last week, he probably played as well as he'd played in our system," Saunders said. "Caron is more of a one-on-one type of player. He went through some injuries earlier in the year and I think a lot of our players, from what's happened this year, have been so mentally worn down. And it's kind of like one thing on top of another. We talk about him in the system and his numbers aren't that far from off, from where he's been in the past.

"But I think there were just so many high expectations, not only for him, but for the team and what he could do," he said. "I think also you have to look at what his numbers are and when you look at a guy like Brendan, who was putting up career numbers. So sometimes, when one guys' numbers go up, another guys' numbers go down a little bit. I think the thing about Caron, he's always been extremely professional and extremely positive. When he wasn't playing well and didn't think he was playing, he always tried to fit in. He tried to fit in as good as he could."

Saunders said he understood that the trade had to be made, but hated to see his former players leave. "It's always difficult to lose a guy like Caron, who has been a mainstay, not only from a basketball standpoint, but also from the community," Saunders said. "And you look at Brendan, who has maybe been as consistent as anyone that we've had this year. But at some point, decisions are made to make changes. And if you go are going to make changes, in order to get good players, you have to give up good players. It will probably give us an influx of new players and how we play in a lot of different areas."

"But I think you also look at it from a standpoint, you make decisions on where you're at now but also where you want to get," he said. "What you think you need to do to win a championship."

By Michael Lee  |  February 15, 2010; 4:57 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Poll: What should the Wizards do next?
Next: New Maverick Caron Butler talks about the trade


LOL, stop spinning for Ernie Flip.

Posted by: closg | February 15, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I feel really bad for Flip, I'm sure he's telling his friends differently then what he's telling Mike Lee.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | February 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

This is a joke. "Interesting Year."

The only thing interesting about this year, is how I realized that, does an awesome job of updating their mock drafts almost every day.

Posted by: maxer18 | February 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree. This is really sad to see this coach, whatever you think of him, reduced to trying to put a positive spin on a ridiculous. It also reinforces the impression that there appears to be zero connection--once again--between Grunfeld and his coach in terms of what they are doing. That was Eddie Jordan's beef--that he wanted different types of players than Grunfeld did, but Grunfeld kept signing jump shooters who didn't play defense. EG has this vision in his mind which he apparently fails to communicate to anyone, including his coach, until the deal is done. Come to think of it, I've never heard Flip even try to describe what kind of team he's trying to build here.

Posted by: jweber1 | February 15, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

The Sports Illustrated article, which came out before the Butler trade, emphasized the importance of the CBA and the likelihood of 1) a salary cap, and 2) a lockout before that became a reality. Their take seemed to be that salary dumping was the main goal for all but a few owners (Mark Cuban being one), and the basketball merits were secondary in most of the deals being discussed. With David Stern insisting that about half of the NBA clubs are actually losing money, that makes more sense than it used to. Even with the funny accounting practices that dominate sports.

On a rare basketball note, SI pointed out that a player like Jamison was actually a good fit at PF for Cleveland because his outside game would improve the spacing for both Shaq and James. On the other hand, Cuban was looking for a wing player (supposedly Kevin Martin of Sacramento) before he landed Butler.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 15, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

"The only thing interesting about this year, is how I realized that, does an awesome job of updating their mock drafts almost every day.Posted by: maxer18"

Although they have an inordinate fondness for skinny 7 foot jump shooters from places like Beloruss and Montenegro.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 15, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Knicks in serious talks for McGrady

By Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears, Yahoo! Sports 1 hour, 17 minutes ago

The New York Knicks are getting closer to reaching the Houston Rockets’ demands for Tracy McGrady(notes) and his $23 million expiring contract, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

The Knicks and Rockets have designed the framework of a deal that would unload New York’s Jared Jeffries(notes), Jordan Hill(notes) and either Al Harrington(notes) or Larry Hughes(notes) for McGrady, Joey Dorsey(notes) and Brian Cook(notes).

As talks stood on Monday, the price of dumping the burdensome contract of Jeffries – who is owed $6.9 million next season – comes with the Knicks and Rockets exchanging 2011 first-round picks and the Knicks’ 2012 first-round choice going to Houston. New York also might include a 2010 second-round pick.

The Utah Jazz own the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2010.

The discussion on potential draft picks changing hands remains fluid.

The completion of the deal isn’t imminent, but sources involved in the discussions are increasingly confident that after months of back and forth, which intensified over All-Star weekend, an agreement is within reach. TNT’s David Aldridge first reported that talks between the teams had picked up.

One of the hang-ups in the deal, sources said, could be the Knicks’ inclusion of either Harrington or Hughes. There are slight variations of the trade that would change depending on which of the two veteran Knicks’ expiring contracts are included. With Harrington over Hughes in the deal, the Rockets wouldn’t need to include Cook.

Posted by: anacostia85 | February 15, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

damn too bad we could not have made that deal with the Knicks getting that 2012 1st rd pick alone makes it worth it.

Posted by: anacostia85 | February 15, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

""It's almost like starting a mini-training camp," he said. "Playing time is going to be determined by the guys who want to go out there and really compete. I think that's going to make it healthy."

Is that coach-speak for "JaVale McGee and Dom McGuire will continue to ride the bench."?

Posted by: and_1 | February 15, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

He can go too. Flip is either the eternal optimist or Ernie Grunfeld's type of guy. Get him the F!@# out of here on the same plane as EG!

7 1st round playoff losses with one team and then lucky to have the players in Detroit to get to the finals but still won nothing.

Losers set goals of just making the playoffs. You see them year in, year out strive for 500 records to maybe be the 6, 7 or 8 seeds. Sound familiar Bullets Fans?

Their is only one goal in Professional Sports, to be Champions!

Sold my season tickets for 40% of original purchase value months ago. I got off easy compared to others but still feel like the sucker I was when my gut instinct screamed at me not to do it. Never again will I spend money on any Professional team that does not have a full commitment to win and entertain.

Posted by: jshavatt | February 15, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

From ESPN:

By Chris Sheridan

As I mentioned in today's live chat, the Washington Wizards are not done dealing. And their next priority is moving $2.6 million in salary to get below the luxury tax line.

For practical purposes, that means they are trying to include Mike James and his expiring $6.47 million contract in a package with Antawn Jamison ($11.6 million) and/or Mike Miller ($9.8 million), and they'd do a lopsided trade that favored the other team if it got them under the tax.

Also, the league office has clarified its gray area stance on the tradeability of Javaris Crittenton, telling the Wizards it is highly unlikely any trade involving the suspended Crittenton and his expiring contract would be approved. (The league office would not, however, stand in the way of a Gilbert Arenas trade, since Arenas has several years remaining on his contract.) Washington had been led to believe otherwise, but it is a moot point anyway because the Wizards do not have any deals on the table involving Crittenton.

Posted by: anacostia85 | February 15, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I think Saunders leads the league in excuses. But the bottom line is he was not a good enough coach to get this team to perform up to snuff. And since Grunfeld hand picked him along with this roster, both men need to be canned.

Posted by: dandyhuffman | February 15, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Jamison, Miller and Blatche to the Celtics for Ray Allen, Brian Scalabrine and a first round pick. Thoughts?

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | February 15, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I'd do it in a heartbeat

Posted by: bford1kb | February 15, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

No, not that package to the Celtics. Blatche is still our most likely PF of the future until something else happens. How can we trade the starter and the first off the bench?

Other thought - if Miller would consider staying (re-signing next season), we need that kind of player for experience and hustle. I understand he "may" want out, but unless he clarifies that, we should not trade him.

Posted by: ragtop4spd | February 15, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

"Losers set goals of just making the playoffs. You see them year in, year out strive for 500 records to maybe be the 6, 7 or 8 seeds. Sound familiar Bullets Fans?Their is only one goal in Professional Sports, to be Champions!

Sold my season tickets for 40% of original purchase value months ago. I got off easy compared to others but still feel like the sucker I was when my gut instinct screamed at me not to do it."Posted by: jshavatt"

So I guess in terms of selling your season tickets, you made the playoffs but were a long way from being a champion.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 15, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

And, he dealt with disappointment through seven first-round playoff losses

No wonder Ernie hired this guy he is use to losing in the first round?

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | February 15, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

I hope he coaches the last 30 games better than he interviews!

Posted by: bobilly2 | February 15, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Flip wasn't flipping. I am sure there were many discussions between he and EG about what the problems were, and what was needed to really compete at higher levels.
It is obvious that Caron and BH did not fit into Flip's perspective of what was needed for his system.
BH is not a defensive stalwart and even further from one on the offensive end.
Caron is a one on one player, which is the antithesis of Flip's system.
I am also sure that Flip was not ecstatic with CB when he ran his own play at the end of the game, instead of the one diagrammed by Flip.
Whether the new additions are the answers long term, it is beyond obvious the 3 former Wiz were not.
Let the games begin!!!

Posted by: mricklen | February 15, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

It must be strange for Gooden, Howard, Singleton, and Ross, to be traded to Washington and have almost nothing said in the Washington papers about them as players, and no interviews of them. Finally Flip did, which was appropriate.

Posted by: PostSubscriber | February 15, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

good point. Personally, I'm going to the game on Wednesday, and while I have rooted against Gooden many times over the past 5 years, I'm going to applaud him and the other 3 (assuming they are there on Wednesday). For all the goofiness that goes on in this blog, I'm a Wizards fan, and they are Wizards now. Grunfeld has given compliments to the Wizards fan base many times during his years here, not sure we deserved that as a group, but I'll do my part to help indicate there are actual supportive fans of the team.

Posted by: ragtop4spd | February 15, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

and1: that's what it sounds like to me, too. more of the same my way or the no way.

Posted by: dcjazzman | February 16, 2010 1:09 AM | Report abuse

flip? does that mean pancakes? give him the bum rush with grunfeld.

Posted by: dcjazzman | February 16, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Flip-Flop Saunders keeps trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Your way has not worked, even before the Arenas situation. Adapt!!! Do something different, That's what a good coach would do. Basketball is not that complicated. Use the young guys. Young, Blatche, McGee and McGuire deserve significant PT to the end of the year. These new guys won't be here after the end of the season and your not going to win anyway, so give the young guys their due without jerking them in and out of the lineup and/or game.

My Starting lineup:

Foye, Young, Jamison, Blatche, McGee

Off the bench:

Boykins, Miller, Howard, Gooden, Oberto

Flip's Starting Lineup:

Foye, Miller, Howard, Jamison, Oberto

Posted by: garrybrown | February 16, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

The Big three obviously hasn't been working for quite some time. Something had to be done! Let's rack up the salary cap space, and try again in Summer 20-10. The Wiz were paying premium prices for little results. If you're going to be a crappy team, you may as well save yourself some cash while doing it right, and get ready for next year (money wise). I can't wait for the Pollin's to finally relinquish their grip over the franchise. Abe was a great guy but a mediocre team owner @ BEST.

Posted by: RobAnthony | February 16, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

You know we will shortly find out whether their is any iota of a winning strategy to any of this going forward for the future.

Many are saying that in order to get better and put this franchise on the winning street, it had to be blown up and started anew.

Maybe this is the correct blueprint.


Whether or not this current bunch can read a blueprint will soon be revealed.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | February 16, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Let go folks!

Blatche and Young are not future stars here.

They will be gone with the next administration.

The entire roster is on the table to be moved this season and in the offseason IMO.

But Blatche in particular is an example of the failed administration here.

The team held onto Blatche for too long and gave him a contract that outsized his inconsistent performances.

A team like the Lakers would have packaged him in a deal 2 years ago when he came off the bench to start games in place of Jamison and put up good stats for a time.

But this is the Wizards where every good performance by a player is viewed as a potential harbinger of things to come.

Other teams view their own players with a more realistic eye.

Posted by: leopard09 | February 16, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I got to be honest, I don't get all the Grunfeld bashing apart from he's the easiest guy to blame. Blame the guy in charge. Any knucklehead can do that.

I think the majority of blame goes on Arenas .. and injuries. Had Arenas never been injured and had he been more mature this would be a completely different team and situation.

Posted by: boblas | February 16, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I think the majority of blame goes on Arenas .. and injuries. Had Arenas never been injured and had he been more mature this would be a completely different team and situation.

Posted by: boblas | February 16, 2010 10:58 AM

If Gil had not gotten hurt, would the players have learned to play defense?

Gil injury was the turning point in the franchise but not championship contenetion.

Posted by: zxhoya | February 16, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Never wanted this guy in the 1st place. Avery Johnson was the right coach for this team (at least as it was initially constructed). Good thing is, he's still out there...maybe Ted and co. will rectify Grunfail's mistake this time around.

Posted by: BMoreChil | February 16, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I can think of a few better adjectives than 'unique' to describe this season. How about 'disaster' or 'total failure' or 'disintegration' or 'embarrassment' or 'miserable'?

Posted by: randysbailin | February 16, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

So wizards fake fans, the owner you love to hate has died, the coach you love to hate was fired last year, the players you love to hate have been traded, so now you will direct your fake fan hate towards Grundfield until he is gone, then you can start back with demanding Saunders be fired. The one thing unfortunately we cant get rid of in this town is the lousy fake bratty fan base who acts like they have been spurs and lakers fans all their lives and so use to a team winning that they cant be a fan of anyone who does not win the championship every other year. A bunch of fake fans from other parts of the country pretending to be wizards fans because they have a job and a home here now. Please do us real DC sports fans a favor and cheer for your home town team. We dont need fairweathered fans. And stop being caps fans just because they are winning now!! If they lose to the penguins in the playoffs again you will dog them out like you do the wizards.

Posted by: ged0386 | February 16, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

why do these post sound like the same post I use to read about Eddie Jordan? Also why do I have the feeling that if we would have hired Avery Johnson instead of Flip and had the same problems most of you would be saying we should have hired Flip instead? You can always sound smarter when you dont have to make the decisions and have the luxury of second guessing people after the fact. Some of you who think you are smarter than Jordan and now Flip dont even make sound decisions in your own lives but you know more about how to assemble and coach a NBA lineup than the guys who are paid to do it. Imagine Flip or Eddie trying to tell you how to do your jobs on a daily basis. You would flip them the bird and tell them where to go.

Posted by: ged0386 | February 16, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Brendon and caron for your services all these years. I truely hope Brendon and Jamison both win a championship before they retire.

Posted by: DesiHungama | February 16, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Dandyhuffman grunfeld needs to be canned. That would help clear up alot of the mess thats going on with the lizards sorry my bad the Wizards.

Posted by: nickyfree44 | February 16, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Ernie is irrelevant. Flip is irrelevant. Yes they are the GM and coach respectively but at the end of the day the players on the floor are the ones who win/lose games and the Wizards as a TEAM sucked and the Wizards had to go a new direction.

Posted by: blackman1 | February 17, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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