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Training camp concerns Part VI: Can Flip Saunders bring it all together?


Rock bottom, down there, was last year. (AP Photo)


Flip Saunders's first season with the Wizards was summed up in one quote in late December after a horrific defensive performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "Don't ever think it can't get any worse," Saunders said, "because it can."

Saunders had no idea what he was stepping into when he took over as the 22nd coach in franchise history. He thought he was going to lead a team that was ready to contend in Eastern Conference but quickly discovered that there were too many personal agendas and little to no commitment to make the necessary sacrifices -- especially on the defensive end.

After coming from Detroit, where his players spent more time looking at the win-loss column than the stat sheet, Saunders was a bit startled to find the opposite situation in Washington. Compounding the problem were some unforeseen hardships and mishaps that derailed the season even more, and ultimately led to the dismantling of the roster.

The year continued to get worse, even after the trades, when he and Andray Blatche had a little dustup in which Blatche refused to speak with him in order to re-enter the game. They eventually worked out the problem and Blatche apologized, but Saunders's refusal to suspend him for insubordination didn't help his reputation -- whether fair or not -- which followed him from Detroit, for not have a firm enough hand with his team. At least one former player said that Saunders could've managed the Wizards better from the outset to avoid some of the problems that unfolded.

But despite signing a four-year, $18 million contract and arriving with high expectations, Saunders was essentially given the ultimate free pass for his lousy debut.

Although he wasn't anticipating a rebuilding situation, Saunders found some enjoyment near the end of the last season as he watched players such as Blatche, JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston make marked improvements from where they started. Saunders is also giving his complicated playbook over to a rookie for the first time since Stephon Marbury took the reins of the Timberwolves in 1996. Saunders's influence on No. 1 overall pick John Wall could go a long way toward Wall's development and the rise of the franchise.

What Saunders learned from last season, through all of the turmoil, was that he needed to have players who are always prepared to compete. He hopes to establish a new identity with scrappy players who won't cheat on effort. His teams in Minnesota and Detroit were noted for their defensive intensity and aggression. Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld acquired players who fit that mentality in the draft and through opportunistic trades.

The Wizards will be one of the youngest teams in the league, with most of the players close in age to Saunders's oldest son, Ryan. With such a young team, Saunders will have a chance to mold them before they've already developed bad habits. He has already tried to connect with his youngsters by coming up with an idea for a Midnight Madness practice that will help the rookies get their first NBA practice out the way at the time when their emotions and nerves are high.

Saunders also continued his tradition of connecting with players in the offseason, as he visited Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich in Chicago, had Wall visit him in Minnesota, and met with everyone else in Las Vegas. His desires to be more of a running team has led Saunders to force every player to complete a conditioning drill before they are allowed to participate in training camp.

He now finds himself in a place similar to his beginnings in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves started over with Kevin Garnett. It took Saunders less than two years to get Minnesota into the playoffs and the Timberwolves made eight consecutive appearances, peaking with a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2004.

The Wizards aren't considered a playoff squad yet, but they are expected to show some progress; the players need to grow and develop. And with a new owner watching closely, the Wizards likely need to have a few wins, too.

By Michael Lee  | September 21, 2010; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Flip Saunders, Training camp concerns 2010-11  
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Next: Adam Morrison accepts invitation to Wizards training camp

Comments

FIRST!!!!

Posted by: Gooddad | September 21, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I like Flip Saunder's alot. I think he is an excellent coach. But I knew he was not the right coach for the team we had last season. I was hoping we went out and got what I thought was more of a disciplinarian type of coach. More of a my way or the highway coach such as Avery Johnson. As evidence of the silly sh** that went on with this team last year.

However, with this younger team, this may work. We have a few, let's just say not the most professional players, left over but hey maybe they will police themselve's so the Coach can focus on the X's and O's and not have to tell the player's to stay out of the clubs for the most part during the season and to committ to at least giving an honest effort on the defensive end..

I have talked to 3 of his(Coach Saunder's) former player's and they all had the same sentiment. He was too "soft" or too "nice" and that they basically did what they wanted in Detroit. Maybe doesn't mean a thing but this was during the season last year and I guess I can see what the meant..

Posted by: kevenjones | September 21, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

A top young player doesn't bode well for a veteran coach, but I think Flip has a good shot to at least last through his contract. The new rooks all look to complement Flip's style in that they're tough and professional instead of the project with upside gambles that had become the norm. My understanding is that Ted doesn't want players that need policing no matter their upside, so a disciplinarian coach isn't a priority.

Posted by: djnnnou | September 21, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

What a silly question, Mr. Lee!

Ernest Grunfeld hired Flip Saunders to coach the Wizards. Therefore, Saunders is inherently qualified to coach the team!

@kevenjones,

Saunders would have been more effective if the so-called "leaders" of the team (Jamison, Butler and Arenas) had been stronger. Alas, Saunders discovered that they were nothing more than well-fed, pampered pooches due to a doting, but well-intentioned owner who spoiled them rotten. As a result, they were no longer the lean, mean tigers initially acquired by Ernest.

To his credit, Saunders tried the normally "tried and true" method of yelling at the young bucks to get the attention of the haughty vets, but his ingenious ploy ultimately fell on deaf, uninterested ears.

@Wizards Faithful,

This season there will be no worries of the sort outlined by Mr. Lee. The Wizards are primed for a dramatic turnaround and will not disappoint!

In Grunfeld We Trust!!

Posted by: melodious_thunk | September 21, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Flip will do as he always does; LEAD & win. I hope he plays the young core to help develope them.

Posted by: Gooddad | September 21, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

His teams in Minnesota and Detroit were noted for their defensive intensity and aggression. Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld acquired players who fit that mentality in the draft and through opportunistic trades.

That should read EG acquired *some* players who fit that mentality. I don't know if Yi or Hilton Armstrong fit that bill. That being said, I did generally like the kind of players they sought in the draft, if not completely the way they went about it.

Just based on the changed in personnel, this team should be better defensively than the team that took the floor to start the season last year.

As for Flip, I was not overly impressed with the job he did last year. You can't put their slow start totally at this feet, but he deserves his share of the blame. Though he played well in short stretches, I thought Flip's use of Boykins disrupted what they wre trying to establish. Granted, on the list of problems for last year's team, that one is down the list a bit.

After the blow-up, I think Flip was slow to adjust to the team he had. Though it's fair to argue that he didn't necessarily have a lot to work with, either.

I don't think there's any mistaking the team he's coming in to coach this year. So, time for take #2, and we'll see what Flip's able to do.

Posted by: ts35 | September 21, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Flip gets a pass for last year even though I thought he was quite subpar alarmingly often....however this year he has as much to prove as anyone else. There is a fair amount of talent on this roster, many different options, he needs to coach'em up and field a team that has an identity and is better in games 60-82 than they are in 1-22 (injuries aside)...regardless of the W-Ls

Posted by: divi3 | September 21, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I guess that this question and question #4 are really intertwined and you can't answer one without the other.

The real question is; Do the Wizards have a team leader who is ready to follow Flip Suanders?

Last year it was pretty clear that Jamison and Butler weren't exactly buying into the new coach's "system". They were used to being fed a heavy dose of shots and had lived in a system where a lot of those shots were off of Iso's.

I think Wall is the guy to not only get the keys to the car, he's going to be encouraged to drive it really fast. I like what I hear about Flip putting running in this team's mind before camp ever starts with a fitness test. Also good news that Gil was the first guy to complete it.

Dispite Gil's stupid locker room incident which completely blew up the season, he really did appear to be attempting to run Flip's offense prior to the suspension. Word out of the Phone Booth is Wall/ Arenas are already forming a chemistry which is further good news.

As a pair they will have to be the quickest backcourt from end to end in the league. Speed kills, it is one of the hardest things in sports to offset. With the NBA's hands off rules, how do you stop Wall with a full head off steam on the break? Force him to dish it and he's got Arenas running on the wing, if Gil regains his open floor magic they could become a dynamic duo on the break.

Gil's got a lot to prove, he's got to know that one more dumb move and he could be "Marburyed" and told to stay home, and his next basketball will be in China. Gil's going to still get his money either way, but I believe he's still got those juices burning and wants to prove himself to be an elite player again.

Anybody catch his Archie Clark look with the full beard yet? I wonder if he takes it into the season.

Bringing in guys like Booker and Hinrich was also a smart move. They're both low maintance guys that will help reign in the "me first" behavior. Either guy will gladly put a knucklehead in the stands in practice. Look for Wizards' Camp to be a lively affair.

Guys like Yi and Armstrong want to regain the status that they came into the league with, and they will be playing for a contract just like Young is. So effort out of those three isn't going to be a huge issue.

I think this is a club more to Flip's liking. If they can rebound and defend well enough to spring the break, this year could be fun.

Imagine that an NBA coach that wants to run, I thought that was just some silly idea that some damn old fool thought up...
GM

Posted by: flohrtv | September 21, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, he was selected to take lead a veteran team and now he's having to rebuild a young one.

Different skills and I'm not sure he has it.

He's sure going to have to show more patience with the young players then he's shown so far. Can't pull a guy after one mistake.

Let's see.....

Posted by: SteveMG | September 21, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, he was selected to take lead a veteran team and now he's having to rebuild a young one.

Different skills and I'm not sure he has it.

He had some young teams in Minnesota and did a nice job getting them focused and playing hard. Yes, he had Garnett, but Garnett was a kid, too. But he was a kid with talent and a tremendous work ethic who set an example. If Flip can get Wall to buy in (and Wall lives up to the hype) then the lion's share of his work is done, because every time Young or Blatche grouse about being criticized or asked to do more, all he'll have to do is point to the 19 year-old kid working his ass off without complaint and say "So . . . what's your problem?"

Posted by: kalo_rama | September 21, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

And I think Wall is as advertised so damn good point Kalo_rama.

I'm hoping NY can finally become consistent as well as give good defensive effort because I'm a huge NY fan. Hope Nick goes straight to the basket this year and stop all that herky jerky sh** he does..

Blatche, well we will see. But I think we know what we have in Blatche already. Decent player but nothing special.

Posted by: kevenjones | September 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

If Flip can get Wall to buy in (and Wall lives up to the hype) then the lion's share of his work is done, because every time Young or Blatche grouse about being criticized or asked to do more, all he'll have to do is point to the 19 year-old kid working his ass off without complaint and say "So . . . what's your problem?"
Posted by: kalo_rama

I think that's partly true, but I don't think the lion's share is done unless Gil also buys in. Those guys have a relationship with Gil. They (throw McGee in too) probably don't idolize him per se, but I get the sense that they view him like the cool older brother. If he buys in to what Flip is trying to do and Wall buys in, it becomes really hard for anyone else to gripe. Though I never underestimate the power of those guys to gripe no matter the circumstances.

Posted by: ts35 | September 21, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"At least one former player said that Saunders could've managed the Wizards better from the outset to avoid some of the problems that unfolded.

But despite signing a four-year, $18 million contract and arriving with high expectations, Saunders was essentially given the ultimate free pass for his lousy debut."

at least one...
------------------

"In Grunfeld we Trust" .... NOT
-----------------------------------

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | September 21, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

the post's writers keep saying "his" (saunders') team at detroit. it WASN'T his team: it was joe dumars' and larry brown's team. saunders didn't win SQUAT when he was there. and was completely unsuccessful in even managing that team, much less LEADING it to anything!

Posted by: dcjazzman | September 21, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Two words 'H#LL NAW'

Posted by: guisher | September 21, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I may not get much agreement here, but here it is anyway:

Dear Flip, please, whatever you do, don't bring a hypnotist anywhere near this team - and particularly John Wall.

Last year was a disaster that began with the silly stunt of bringing in a hypnotist. The team played like they were in a trance all year. Gilbert acted like he did not know the difference between reality and an hypnotic stunt being done for the amusement of the hypnotist's spectators.

Please, Flip, bring in Gary Williams or Coach K to give a pep talk (or even Mike Shanahan to lay down rules) but for God's sake no more hypnotists. Just don't ever, ever do that again!!!

Posted by: joyster8 | September 22, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

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