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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 12/30/2010

Flip Saunders's status unclear

By Gene Wang

This morning the Washington Wizards went through practice without Coach Flip Saunders for the second time this week, as he remained away from the team to attend to a family emergency involving his mother. Saunders missed last night's 104-90 victory over Indiana, and it's uncertain whether he'll be back on the bench for tomorrow afternoon's road game against the Pacers.

Top assistant Randy Wittman has been filling in for Saunders over the past day and a half, including coaching last night's win that wound up being one of the team's most complete games this season. The Wizards ended a three-game losing streak, got their second victory in 12 games and won for just the third time this month.

"Obviously our thoughts and prayers go with Flip and the situation that he's dealing with at home," Wittman said. "That's the main focus. I told him as he left that family is number one, and you've got to take care of those situations. I don't want to be out here talking to you guys, that's for sure. I told him he better get back here soon."

Given his previous NBA coaching experience, Wittman was the natural choice to replace Saunders as interim coach. Wittman most recently was the head coach for Minnesota from Jan. 2007 through Dec. 8 2008, when Kevin McHale replaced him. Previous to that stop, Wittman coached the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1991 to 2001.

Last night's win was Wittman's first as a coach since Nov. 28, 2008, when Minnesota beat Oklahoma City, 105-103. The Timberwolves went on to lose five in a row after that, leading to Wittman's dismissal followng a 4-15 start.

In Wittman's first game as a head coach since Dec. 6, 2008, the Wizards committed a season-low nine turnovers against the Pacers and produced one of their most inspired defensive performances of the season, especially in the fourth quarter.

"Flip has got to take care of things at home first," said guard Nick Young, who led Washington with 25 points against Indiana. "We all feel sorry for him. Hopefully he's taking care of what he has to, and we're going to be right here supporting him and trying to win some games for him."

By Gene Wang  | December 30, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Flip Saunders, Nick Young  
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Next: Preparing for Indiana -- again

Comments

Hope all is well with Flipper's fam. I think maybe a trade's a brewin for Al Thornton.......ok i hope a trade is brewin.

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | December 30, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

First?

Posted by: Blurred | December 30, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

It would kinda suck for Flip if he's out Friday and the team gets its first road win, maybe one more road loss is in order for his sake.

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

It would kinda suck for Flip if he's out Friday and the team gets its first road win, maybe one more road loss is in order for his sake.

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

and if Kirk doesn't play...then there would be a few people on here who have been telling us all year the reason the Wizards are where they are 7-22 is because of them.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 30, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

1st step toward Flip resigning with some dignity. Can you say "Randy Wittman, interim coach" for remainder of the year?

Posted by: BinM | December 30, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

First of all I would like to say a quick prayer for Flip's mom........

This may be a good opportunity for Flip to pack it in and concentrate on his family. I am quite sure he can negotiate a buy-out of some sort.

IMO, this would be best for all parties involved.

Randy is capable of finishing out the season and then EG can go and we can start fresh. EG has had his chance to make his mark on the team and it didn't work.

Jeff Van Gundy is available. Patrick Ewing may be an option...We need a coach that can relate to the youngsters...


Posted by: TEliasB | December 30, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Wittman would a better coach than Flip, I'd like to hear it.

Posted by: djnnnou | December 30, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Kevin Pritchard is our there as a potential GM candidate. There isn't a GM out there I'd rather have then Pritch

Posted by: mjsciann1 | December 30, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Wittman would a better coach than Flip, I'd like to hear it.

He's 1-0 as Wizards coach, Flip is 33-78?

In all seriousness, I'm not suggesting Flip needs to resign or anything. Just noticed the team DID look different last night, and Wittman's postgame comments were levels above Flip's standard miseries. He runs the Bigs portion of practice, probably has a better relationship with Dray and Mcgee than Flip does, maybe he could motivate them better. Or would be more apt to call out our guards for not setting them up, even things out a bit.

But again, just one game, no more no less. And I'm not saying Flip needs to go.

After we win Friday, the deluge of course

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Too bad all the voltures are circling! The man has a sick or emergency situation with his mom and everyone you guys hve already found replacements for him. It would too easy to pile on but I'd rather wait til he returns to the team.

Posted by: zack9633 | December 30, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

First?

Posted by: Blurred

At what? being late?

Posted by: zack9633 | December 30, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

In all seriousness, I'm not suggesting Flip needs to resign or anything. Just noticed the team DID look different last night, and Wittman's postgame comments were levels above Flip's standard miseries. He runs the Bigs portion of practice, probably has a better relationship with Dray and Mcgee than Flip does, maybe he could motivate them better. Or would be more apt to call out our guards for not setting them up, even things out a bit.
Posted by: divi3

Or, more likely, after a few games and settling in, would go back to harping on a lot of the same issues.

Posted by: ts35 | December 30, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Or, more likely, after a few games and settling in, would go back to harping on a lot of the same issues.

Why is that more likely? Who knows how Wittman or someone else would approach things? Could work better, or fail worse.

It IS interesting to consider that after this many years Wittman must know Flip's Xs and Os inside and out....so right now the difference (for better or worse) between them could just be how well they manage/motivate players and their in-game decisions.

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Flip didn't coach, Hienrich wasn't out there dribbling the ball to death and the wizards won. Go figure!

Posted by: squidward1 | December 30, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Who knows how Wittman or someone else would approach things?

Past performance. Wittman took over the T-Wolves after Dwane Casey was fired. Casey had the team at 20-20. Wittman went 12-30. And this was with Kevin Garnett playing 39 minutes a game.

Posted by: djnnnou | December 30, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Why is the reporting on Flip's absence so vague? I understand the right to privacy, but couldn't this be reported with a little more definitiveness?

Posted by: bobilly1 | December 30, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Wittman would a better coach than Flip, I'd like to hear it.

Posted by: djnnnou | December 30, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

People said the same thing in Dallas a couple of weeks ago...

If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Jason Garrett, would a better coach than Wade Phillips , I'd like to hear it.

It's the same scenario, once the players realize (what must of the fans already know) the coach doesn't care the players
quit playing for him.

It's time for a change

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 30, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Wittman would a better coach than Flip, I'd like to hear it.Posted by: djnnnou"

Well, for one thing, Randy is much, much taller than Flip. He was a better college player, winning the Big 10 Player of the Year honors. He was drafted higher by the NBA. Randy's son was a better NCAA player than Flip's son, too.

So put all that together, and who else would you expect larryinclinton and bulletsfan78 to support?

Of course, Randy's record as a head coach in the NBA is far worse than Flip's. But really, does that matter?

Randy was on the bench when the Wiz beat Indy at home last evening. That's really all that counts. Once Randy loses, it'll be Sam Cassell's turn.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Casey had the team at 20-20. Wittman went 12-30. And this was with Kevin Garnett playing 39 minutes a game.Posted by: djnnnou"

Yes, but if you watched Kevin's facial expressions, he seemed a little happier playing for Randy. So clearly a change had to be made.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Who knows how Wittman or someone else would approach things?

Past performance. Wittman took over the T-Wolves after Dwane Casey was fired. Casey had the team at 20-20. Wittman went 12-30. And this was with Kevin Garnett playing 39 minutes a game.

That has nothing to do with how he would approach the team though.

Let me turn it around. For the sake of argument, what if the Zards come out en fuego on Friday and blow the doors off the Pacers with strong games from the frontcourt? Does that mean anything at all in regards to the two coaches? Or is it just happenstance? What if Flip missed 4 games and the Wizards won all 4? Is that anything or nothing?

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Jason Garrett, would a better coach than Wade Phillips , I'd like to hear it.

Well, because Wade's offensive coordinator (coincidentally named Jason Garrett) called twice as many passes as runs. The, after Jason Garrett gets named head coach, his offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett suddenly starts calling more runs than passes and they start having more success. Coincidence? You decide.

Posted by: ts35 | December 30, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

People said the same thing in Dallas a couple of weeks ago... Posted by: bulletsfan78

I asked for an informed opinion. Stick with what you're good at, persistent nagging.

Posted by: djnnnou | December 30, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Why is that more likely? Who knows how Wittman or someone else would approach things? Could work better, or fail worse.

You really seem to forget all of the positive things Flip said when he walked in the door. The kinds of things all new coaches say when they take over. Eventually reality sets in. Is Flip a genius coach or genius communicator? Of course not. But one presser for a game they won doesn't make Wittman one, either.

Just noticed the team DID look different last night,

For the first two and half quarters, they actually looked very much the same. The sleptwalked their way through the first half. For the last quarter and a half, they looked like the aggressive, active team that took the floor in the four games after Howard got here and before he got hurt. Was it Wittman, or was it playing against a mediocre team at home?

Much like the backup quarterback, the assistant coach is always the most popular guy in town when a team's record isn't good.

Posted by: ts35 | December 30, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

"If there is an informed opinion out there as to why Jason Garrett, would a better coach than Wade Phillips , I'd like to hear it."

Don't forget the change in QB: Kitna for Romo. That's one reason for the increase in runs -- Jon wasn't ready to throw as much as Tony.

Was just reading a commentary from the Colts' Bill Polian on what he feels the various media and fan websites can contribute to building and managing an NFL team. Basically, nothing. He thinks we low less than about team management.

But of course that's football.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

That has nothing to do with how he would approach the team though.

I don't follow. We're all looking for results, right? The team should start to win more games either with Flip or with his handpicked coaching staff. The team has been pretty competitive lately, Lewis and Howard are settling in, and everyone is about as healthy as can be expected. It doesn't follow that there should be a change if the team starts winning with Flip away. His influence is still there.

Posted by: djnnnou | December 30, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

I've half been waiting for the Wiz to go on a little win streak. I recall that happened in the wake of the trades last season. Arenas was suspended for the rest of the yar and Blatche emerged as the go-to player. It looked for a minute like the team would actually benefit from losing all those veterans. Of course that wasn't true, but things seemed to come together temporarily.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"Just noticed the team DID look different last night, and Wittman's postgame comments were levels above Flip's standard miseries."

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 4:15 PM


Didn't look any different to me. They've been giving stronger defensive effort and playing with more energy and cohesion the past several games, coinciding (although I doubt it's coincidence) with Arenas being traded. They were hardly a phoenix risen from the ashes last night. The effort they gave was right in line with what they had against the Bulls, Heat, and Rockets. The main difference was the quality of the opponent. As for Wittman's comments: (A) it's pretty standard dynamic for the assistant coaches to be the sympathetic uncles and the head coach to be the tough parent when it comes to criticizing and disciplining players, and (B) they won going away, so of course he had good things to say. You would have heard a different story from Wittman if they'd blown the lead and lost by 10.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 30, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

So RASHARD LEWIS is the manifestation of the WIZ' management's determination to make BLATCHE play well or else? And the cause of the rumored passing of ANDRAY around the league for inspection? Was the intimidation a factor in the dust-up between 'DRAY and McGEE? Very interesting.

Posted by: glawrence007 | December 30, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

So RASHARD LEWIS is the manifestation of the WIZ' management's determination to make BLATCHE play well or else? And the cause of the rumored passing of ANDRAY around the league for inspection? Was the intimidation a factor in the dust-up between 'DRAY and McGEE? Very interesting.

"Just noticed the team DID look different last night, and Wittman's postgame comments were levels above Flip's standard miseries."
Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 4:15 PM

did they win? thast might have something to do with it.

Posted by: glawrence007 | December 30, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

"That has nothing to do with how he would approach the team though."

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 5:36 PM

As a general rule, a coach's record has quite a bit to do with giving a picture of how good he is. Wittman's history suggests that he's not a very good head coach. Does that mean he might not do better in a different circumstance? Of course not. But based on his record (and that's all we have to go by, really) there's nothing that says he's particularly likely to do better.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 30, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

"Randy is capable of finishing out the season and then EG can go and we can start fresh. EG has had his chance to make his mark on the team and it didn't work."

Posted by: TEliasB | December 30, 2010 3:48 PM

Only if you don't consider taking over a franchise that had made one playoff appearance in the previous 17 years and guiding them to 4 consecutive ones (including two in which they were missing one or more key players) "working."

Now, if by "work" you mean win a title, then no, it didn't "work." But, by that definition, the vast majority of GMs are failures, right? But if that's the case, unless you're getting one of those select few, then change for change's sake wouldn't seem to be much of a plan.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 30, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Patrick Ewing! Now at some point in the future, he is worth investigating as a new head coach for the Wizards.

Posted by: zbopjazz | December 30, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Didn't look any different to me. They've been giving stronger defensive effort and playing with more energy and cohesion the past several games

The ball moved much better last night than it has in recent games, none of the "sticking" Flip has complained about so much. Of course that could just be Wall being a better PG than KH. But the team looked much different in the 4thQ than they did in Houston when they pretty much watched the game slip away

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

As a general rule, a coach's record has quite a bit to do with giving a picture of how good he is.

Flip's record here is 33-78. When does that start giving a picture how he good he currently is? Or does he ride above his Wizard's record indefinitely, based on years of success in different circumstances?

Posted by: divi3 | December 30, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

divi3:

I'm afraid he gets a pass until UNCLE TED says he doesn't. Same for GRUNFELD.

LEONSIS is going to let the management team fail before any change. Several years in my book. If the WIZ go through two more, maybe three makeovers and nothing improves, then there will be major changes in the front office. Until then players will come and go.

Posted by: glawrence007 | December 30, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

"Flip's record here is 33-78. When does that start giving a picture how he good he currently is? Or does he ride above his Wizard's record indefinitely, based on years of success in different circumstances?Posted by: divi3"

I think it depends on your perspective. In support of mine, Saunders' had a terrific record with two different NBA teams when he arrived here. He also had a terrific track record with young players in the CBA. So there wasn't much to suggest he was anything but a competent (even superior) professional coach. Not Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, but then, they didn't apply for the job.

Here in Washington, Saunders took over a team that had finished 19-63 the previous year, worst in franchise history. A veteran team returning its leader, Gilbert Arenas, from two injury-plagued seasons. The return of Arenas and a veteran core created expectations of success well beyond that 19 win record, and as it turned out, quite divorced from reality. Many were mystified when the team struggled. Then events took over. The death of longtime owner Abe Pollin around Thanksgiving, followed by an epic scandal that began on Xmas Eve, followed by prolonged uncertainty about the transition to new ownership, led to a decision to 'blow up' the team and start over.

Please note the use of the term 'blow up', rather than 'reload' -- implying a rebuild from the ground up.

In mid-February 2010, the team traded its core to Dallas and Cleveland in exchange for injury-plagued Josh Howard, plus a projected 30th draft pick, plus a box of rocks. Howard played in four games before going down for the season. The team won 9 more games to finish 26-56.

With number one pick John Wall and three lower picks in the fold, the team entered the 2010-11 season ranked in the league's bottom tier and projected to win fewer games than the previous season. As the season passes the one-third point, the Wages of Wins site projects 19-20 victories for the current campaign. The Wizards currently have eight, so it's entirely possible they will slightly exceed the projection.

Due to the circumstances, it doesn't appear to this observer that last season or this offers us with a very complete or accurate picture of the head coach's competence. Or any replacement's, for that matter.

It is likely, however, to offer an interesting portrait of a certain type of player behavior, and of a certain type of fan behavior, neither of which has been pleasant to behold.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

BTW, I didn't mention the acquisitions of Kirk or Yi, or the loss of Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, or Randy Foye, because I didn't expect those to be of great significance.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 30, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

"The ball moved much better last night than it has in recent games, none of the "sticking" Flip has complained about so much. Of course that could just be Wall being a better PG than KH. But the team looked much different in the 4thQ than they did in Houston when they pretty much watched the game slip away"

Which could just as easily (and, quite frankly, more likely) be (A) a natural evolution from the team's improving play going back several games and/or (B) a direct response to Saunders' vocal criticism of their previous lack of ball movement. Either way, the evidence to support the theory that Wittman's presence/Saunders' absence, in and of itself, had some kind of transformative effect on the team's performance is slim at best.


"Flip's record here is 33-78. When does that start giving a picture how he good he currently is?""

When he's had an extended period of coaching a whole, healthy team, something he's rarely had in pretty much the entire time he's been here. Given the realities of the kind of upheaval this team has been through the past season and a half and when measured against his career mark (coming into this job) of 561-344, the current record says as much, if not more, about the overall state of the team/franchise than it does specifically about Saunders' coaching. With the Timberwolves,Wittman took over a team with a .500 record and proceeded to go 12-30. As bad as the overall record looks, the fact is that under Saunders the Wiz actually won more games last season than they had the season before, playing with a collection of makeshift rosters and dealing with a ridiculous amount of turmoil and drama.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 30, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Larry Brown was 1,275–965 in his career, but he wasn't getting the job done with the Bobcats...

Flip is 561-344 in his career, but he isn't getting the job done with the Wizards..

So one has nothing to do with the other unless a person just wants to makeup excuses for Flip.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 31, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

"Larry Brown was 1,275–965 in his career, but he wasn't getting the job done with the Bobcats..."

Yep, when did Michael Jordan ever make a mistake in running a team?

I'm sure this move will be as successful as his others...

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 1:05 AM | Report abuse

"So one has nothing to do with the other unless a person just wants to makeup excuses for Flip.Posted by: bulletsfan78"

One has nothing to do with the other if the intent is simply to come up with excuses to condemn Flip.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 1:08 AM | Report abuse

Wittman is 100-206 in his career and has never gotten the job done with done with anyone.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 31, 2010 1:14 AM | Report abuse

Make that 101-206.

Guy's a stud.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 31, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

Wittman 1-0 as a Wiazrd coach this year


Flip 7-22 as a Wizard coach this year

Flip's a dud

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 31, 2010 1:47 AM | Report abuse

Tom Thibodeau

No previous NBA record but he has the Bulls in 4th place with Boozer missing 15 games and Noah being hurt?

Ted since you said you wanted to model the Wizards after the OKC organization, please bring in a young coach next year that the young players can grow with.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 31, 2010 2:20 AM | Report abuse

"No previous NBA record. . ."

True and (not the least bit surprisingly) irrelevant. Wittman does have a previous NBA record and that record suggests that he's not an esp. good head coach.

If there's a hot up-and-coming assistant who they think will do a better job than Saunders and provide a long-term solution, then by all means hire him. But the time to do that is after this season, when they can properly interview and evaluate candidates. Firing an established coach a fraction of the way through the season to replace him with an obvious seat warmer who everyone knows from jump will be on the first bus outta town when the whistle blows on the final game? Seems to me we've danced that dance.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 31, 2010 2:34 AM | Report abuse

GILBERT'S A BUST UPDATE

10 pts/ 6 ast/ 0 rbs
20 min off the bench

Posted by: zack9633 | December 31, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

MEMO TO THE NOVELIST ON THIS BLOG:

My fellow bloggers. I, along with others here, enjoy reading your postings here. However, when your post start to look like a chapter of a novel or a short story, please cut it out. After the 1st few lines the comments ain't "fresh" anymore. I won't name names as we can scroll up and down to see who they are. I know you want to use all of the allowed characters but this ain't a writing contest. . daaaaammmm!

IMO, 7 lines should be enough to state your point. Anything longer, post a 2nd time. . . I'm just saying though

Posted by: zack9633 | December 31, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

My fellow bloggers. I, along with others here, enjoy reading your postings here. However, when your post start to look like a chapter of a novel or a short story, please cut it out. After the 1st few lines the comments ain't "fresh" anymore. I won't name names as we can scroll up and down to see who they are. I know you want to use all of the allowed characters but this ain't a writing contest. . daaaaammmm!

IMO, 7 lines should be enough to state your point. Anything longer, post a 2nd time. . . I'm just saying though

SEE
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Done!

Posted by: zack9633 | December 31, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

"IMO, 7 lines should be enough to state your point. Anything longer, post a 2nd time. . . I'm just saying thoughPosted by: zack9633"

Spoken like someone who frequently doesn't have a point to state...

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

"Wittman 1-0 as a Wiazrd coach this year
Flip 7-22 as a Wizard coach this year
Flip's a dud
Posted by: bulletsfan78"

You could have compressed the above to 3 words or expanded it to 3,000 -- it still wouldn't make sense.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Also from SI.com: "The Denver Nuggets believe the New Jersey Nets are so desperate to make a deal for Carmelo Anthony that they're holding firm on a trade demand of five future first-round draft picks as part of a package to land the All-Star forward..."

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"LEONSIS is going to let the management team fail before any change. Several years in my book. If the WIZ go through two more, maybe three makeovers and nothing improves, then there will be major changes in the front office. Until then players will come and go.Posted by: glawrence007"

I sincerely doubt that. Ted's a businessman, not a patient breed. But he bases decisions on 1) his experience, and 2) data, which he analyzes extensively.

Dan Snyder and Abe Pollin (at least in later years) operated more from the gut. Ted's more influenced by the flow of information and analysis. If he resists change, it's because he thinks the data is suggesting that, or not yet conclusive. If he makes a move, it's because he thinks the available analysis is pointing that way.

Doesn't mean that he's always right, however. Nobody is. Just that he has his reasons, and they're more logical than, say, Michael Jordan's.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 31, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

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