As the dust settles from the “it’s a done deal” to the “it’s official” phase of hiring Flip Saunders as the next coach of the Wizards, I find it hard to form a solid opinion on perhaps the most important aspect of transforming this team from mediocre to championship contender (aside from health of course).
I still subscribe to the thought that players are on the court, playing the games, and thus hold the ultimate responsibility for winning and losing. But a good coach…well, he can be a difference maker.
Not to say I’m apathetic towards the hiring of Saunders. If I had to rank, I suppose he would have been my number one choice, with Mark Jackson being a sleeper pick (he is a minister, and could surely preach on it….plus, his NBA analysis on ABC/ESPN is on point….but he lacks significant coaching experience).
I might have taken Avery Johnson over Jackson…but over Saunders? I’m not so sure…..in fact, I doubt it. So Saunders it is, and I’m okay with that….but not exactly thrilled. Then again, the stink of this season hasn’t been laid to rest, and that certainly has something to do with my mundane attitude.
Michael Wilbon, whom I’ve taken to task before because of generic columns, when it comes to the Wizards, that scream lackluster effort of trying to cater to the masses instead of a knowledgeable fan base, actually wrote an astoundingly astute column on the Wiz coaching situation. However, I don’t exactly agree with his sentiment.
Wilbon’s column, “Wizards Need Coach Who’ll Flip on Arenas,” is less about questioning Saunders and more about questioning Gilbert Arenas. Essentially, he says, a coach with a stronger personality would be a better fit because the zany Agent Zero needs structure that Saunders cannot provide.
Wilbon goes on to mention hard-nosed championship coaches such as Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, and Phil Jackson, and relates that, of course, no one of that caliber is available. But, Avery Johnson is available, and he has a ring. And while he does mention that Johnson won the ring as a player, Wilbon fails to distinguish the significant difference, at least in my opinion, between a coach and player with championship experience.
Not to belittle the abilities of Johnson and his success with the Mavs, but the fact that he played for a title team doesn’t come close to giving him the same coaching credibility as the aforementioned. Hence, his coaching resume is no better, actually it’s worse, than that of Flip Saunders.
Want some rings on the bench? Well, how about Sam Cassell? If he’s brought on as an assistant, many suspect that he’ll mesh with the team, helping organize the locker room in an attempt to quell concerns that Saunders will be a push-over. So will Cassell be the bad cop, or the good cop? Wait, why does the team have to be criminals? Can’t they all act like they’re apart of the same police force? Why is this team suddenly filled with locker room cancers, led by the malignant Arenas? Too many assumptions are being made that the Wizards are uncoachable.
The Pradamaster weighs in fairly on Bullets Forever: “[Sam] Cassell does everything Avery would do, except with far less risk. Yet Wilbon dismisses it offhand, since he’s not the head coach. The title, to me, seems far less important than Wilbon makes it out to me.”
So that brings us back to this Arenas character….when do we (or the franchise) get tired of feeling obligated to cater to this guy? The fact that Ernie Grunfeld has already invested $111 million in him holds some weight. But regardless, it’s time for Arenas to man-up, take some responsibility, and not beat to his own drum so often.
I’ve been critical of Arenas on countless occasions, perhaps more so than the next guy, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Gil. I was behind resigning him, even in hindsight after the third surgery, and I still have hope that he’ll become the holistic player we dream about. Not just the guy who feels the need to “prove” himself to everyone else, prove that he’s a distributor by dropping 20 dimes to one turnover in two games back, rather, the guy who unites his team…..proving themselves as a cohesive unit, not a single zero to hero.
A third of me feels that Wilbon is politicking for his ESPN colleague, a third thinks he’s playing the race card, and a third tends to think that he genuinely believes Johnson is the better candidate (perhaps swayed by the fact that he’s got to know him better via ESPN).
In the end, no matter who the Wizards get (or got), there will be someone to question (or be adamantly against) the selection’s credentials (to the point where websites such as saynotoflip.com (via Stet Sports) have surfaced). In Saunders’ case, the top two assumptions about his upcoming coaching tenure are that the Wizards defense won’t improve to a championship level caliber, and that he won’t be able to tame Arenas.
As mentioned, a coach IS the difference maker, but sorry, the onus of those two areas is on the players, not the coach. If Arenas isn’t willing to lead, and if the players aren’t committed to defense, then no coach in the world would even have a chance to be that difference maker.
Will Flip Saunders be “that” difference maker? The answer is obvious…..no one knows. But if I were the Wizards, I’d be highly offended by questions of the team’s character and them not being able to work under a proven coach, especially Arenas, who is painted as a wild card, instead of an ace in the hole. Then again, Arenas has no one to blame but himself for the outsider’s opinion of him.
Most of all, if I were Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, or Brendan Haywood, considered the true leaders of the team, I’d be offended. Maybe they can’t control Arenas per se, but if any of them speak up, you can be sure that Gil will listen. All signs indicate that Arenas respects his teammates and in turn, they want him on the court, going to war with them…..because Gil is a gamer, and I’m not just talking about Halo.
So while some are futilely clamoring for people to say no to Saunders, I’m here to say why not? Lost in the mix is that the Wizards actually went out and got the best name available, and he accepted. Could you say that about Les Boulez of the past?
For better or worse, Saunders is the coach, and while it’s infinitely easy for some Wizards fans/followers/interested parties to be averse off the bat, let
‘s wait until the team starts sucking before covering the franchise with any more negative judgment. Lord knows they’ve had enough negativity as it is.
What Others Are Saying:
(Bullets Forever also has a Flip Saunders reaction round-up)
“Avery Johnson is the other available coach whose name was being dropped in connection to the Wizards. His constant prodding and emphasis on defense grew old with the Mavericks, just as it possibly would with Arenas.
Saunders is the safer choice of the two. That is not to say he is an exemplary choice. That judgment will not be made until the Wizards are back in the playoffs and at full strength. The last time the Wizards met those conditions was in 2006, which made the ouster of Jordan all the more unsettling this season.
Jordan had no more chance than Saunders would have if he is missing several essential pieces. Ed Tapscott had no chance either.
[Tom Knott - Washington Times]
“Either way, I’m a big fan, as long as we continue to pursue the plan we’re clearly pursuing. I get the plea for a more radical change to a defense-first guy like Avery Johnson or Tom Thibodeau (who I prefer greatly to Avery). But again, if you want your team to really transform, you need more radical roster moves and (likely) breaking up the Big 3. That roster transformation should have happened already, and it didn’t. So long as it didn’t, the coach won’t solve things all by himself. It’s way more likely he’ll mess up any foundation we have created, just as we’ve seen with so many examples.
“So basically, Flip Saunders is the perfect fit for this roster plan that we’re clearly running with. It’s a flawed plan, sure, but it’s clearly the plan. And doing the flawed plan right is so much better than starting with a flawed plan, then hiring a coach that doesn’t even fit with it.
[Mike Prada - Bullets Forever]
“If you look at the teams that currently have interim coaches, you’d be hard pressed to find a better situation to enter than Washington, with three all-stars in tow. Sacramento is a mess with limited talent. Oklahoma City will likely keep Scott Brooks. Philadelphia could easily keep Tony DiLeo with the team advancing to the playoffs. Toronto has had a difficult season, but it has one all-star in Chris Bosh and might keep Jay Triano. Phoenix has plenty of talent, but the Suns appear poised to blow up that whole operation. And, I don’t see him going back to Minnesota to replace Kevin McHale. That would just be weird.
[Michael Lee - Wizards Insider]
“There’s no doubt that Saunders can coach and can teach, but there have always been questions about his ability to generate motivation within that equation. There’s a chance the Wizards may improve slightly just from the new face in the locker room, but over the long term, it won’t end well for a player’s coach and a Wizards’ Romper locker room. They just aren’t mature enough for it.
[Jarrett Carter - Stet Sports]
“[Flip Saunders] doesn’t seem quite like one of those “coaching carousel” retreads who survive, and fit the bill, solely on the circular credibility of having been a head coach in the past. After all, under him the Pistons made the Eastern Conference Finals three years in a row, and he helped that team become more than a one-way threat. On the other hand, he presided over the disintegration of the Pistons’ trademark defensive intensity — the LeBron Game, anyone? — and was unable to exert the leadership necessary to pull together a team that had begun to doubt itself (and him).
[Bethlehem Shoals - The Sporting Blog]
“The fact is, it’s a coaching hire. So half the people are going to be excited and positive and thankful the Wizards didn’t hire a college coach. And half the people are going to point to the fact that Saunders has never taken a team to the NBA Finals and decide he can’t handle the locker room personalities. You can pick either side, but I would caution you this. If Doc Rivers can go from being a joke that can’t manage a rotation to a coach of the year candidate for the NBA champions, odds are this coaching thing is a bit more complicated and more difficult to predict than we think it is.
[Matt Moore - NBA FanHouse]
“Flip Saunders isn’t just a good offensive coach, he’s a great offensive coach. He’s also one that doesn’t come with the baggage of say, a Don Nelson. Depending on how you interpret the events that transpired in Detroit, you may have your list of qualms with the man or his style, but it’s hard to argue with how he transformed one of the league’s slowest and least imaginagive offensive teams into a vehicle for easy buckets, exploiting mismatches, and whimsy.
[Rob Mahoney - Hardwood Paroxysm]
“Saunders was dismissed in June after his Pistons fell to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics amid accusations that he never earned the respect of his players and couldn’t get them to buy into his philosophy. That could make for an interesting situation for the Wizards, who have six reserve players under the age of 23.
One former Saunders player, who wished to remain nameless, said that isn’t necessarily true.
“Flip’s a great coach – offensive genius,” he said. “You’ll be in the huddle, drawing up a play. You come out, and sure enough, you’re gonna get a good look. He can definitely help [the Wizards].”
[Mike Jones - Washington Times]
“But this may be the right hire in no small part because of the lack of dra
ma. Saunders isn’t going to start public or private feuds with players. He’s going to implement a solid system — on both ends of the floor — and put the players in position to succeed.
Is it a thrilling or exciting choice? Nope. But it feels to me like a very good one.
[Kevin Broom - The Secret Weapon]
“Great fit for Flip. Veteran team. Needs some offense. Knows what he’s doing. Respected by the league. Good fit. Look, if Doc Rivers can suddenly be this amazing coach, Saunders can get the job done.
[Matt Moore - Hardwood Paroxysm]
“I like Avery Johnson, but I just think Saunders is the better fit. Johnson would come in and try to change everything, and except for a few changes that could be made in the offseason, the Wizards are committed to the same core players. The Wizards don’t need to drastically re-work the roster; they need to build around the strengths of the big three (Arenas, Butler, and Jamison).