3-on-3: The Washington Wizards Fire Flip Saunders | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

3-on-3: The Washington Wizards Fire Flip Saunders

Updated: January 24, 2012

[Flip Saunders attempts to coach up his team in his last home game with the Wizards.]

Flip Saunders was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Washington Wizards today. He departs D.C. with a record of 51-130 over two full seasons and about a fourth of this lockout-shortened season. Assistant Randy Wittman will take over as head coach, the team has announced, and assistants Don Zierden, Sam Cassell, Ryan Saunders and Gene Banks will remain. TAI’s Adam McGinnis, Rashad Mobley and Kyle Weidie answer three questions related to the firing. Let it begin…

#1) Was it fair to Saunders to fire him?

WEIDIE: Fair? No. Flip didn’t sign up for this, remember? But life’s not fair, and when players wipe their ass with the message, sometimes you gotta kill the messenger (as in, perhaps the message should have been more forceful, laminated). Look, no one is going to wholly blame Saunders for the woes of this team; it’s mostly on the young and dumb (and sometimes not so young, but still dumb) players that Ernie Grunfeld has provided. Still, the Wizards of 2009-10 seemed to tune Saunders out before the Arenas-Crittenton gun mess, and he and his massive playbook were never able to recover toward true productivity — something to be said about that. And maybe sometimes things just get stale… Right Grunfeld?

MOBLEY: Before last night’s game, I would have said it was not fair to fire Flip, because the Wizards were playing better — more importantly, John Wall was playing more inspired.  But last night’s game was an absolute joke, and the pre-garbage time effort the Wizards showed was deplorable. To lose a close game to a Celtics team with basically no Allen or Rondo is one thing,  but the Wizards were quickly and often down by 30 to the Sixers. It didn’t help matters that two years ago, the Sixers were a lottery team like the Wizards, and now the new and improved version (coached by Doug Collins) was whipping Flip’s guys. Saunders was given a fair chance, and it was time for him to go.

McGINNIS: This team is not set up to be a contender but no way it should be 2-15 bad. Although there is a decent case to be made in Flip’s defense, let us not completely whitewash his responsibility. This roster is flawed, very young and the Gilbert Arenas situation was not his fault. However, John Wall is the team’s future and main building block. His strengths are speed, athletic ability and creative passing skills. Flip decided to set up an offense that forced him into becoming a midrange jump shooter. That is on him and partially why this decision is completely fair. Flip gets to keep his money and return back home to Minnesota, where he can go out to eat at nice restaurants with his head up.

#2) What are your impressions of his replacement, Randy Wittman?

WEIDIE: Randy Wittman seems like a straight-shooter (i.e., yells at players more, makes mean faced, not as tolerant in his old age a la Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino), but he also seems to have a much more comfortable demeanor than Saunders, at least in front of the media. Now, my window to this is limited — as Wizards assistants aren’t allowed to talk to the press per team policy — the only interaction with Wittman coming in the few times last season he filled in for Saunders when Flip’s mother was ailing and later when she passed away, and thus Wittman would be thrust into the post-game media session. But who cares about his demanor with the press in a situation he knew was temporary? Will Wittman, apt to get in yelling matches with the likes of JaVale McGee on the bench, get this same unit of players to listen? Highly doubtful. More changes must be coming, it’s just that firing the head coach was the easiest one to make now.

MOBLEY: At various points during the last three seasons, JaVale McGee and Nick Young have gotten the quick hook due to their erratic, inconsistent play. Flip would either pat them on the butt or ignore them completely, but not Wittman. He would be in their face or next to them on the bench, presumably talking to each player about what they did wrong and how to fix it. I think it is safe to assume he’ll be doing much more of that now.

McGINNIS: Wittman is a career assistant with a couple head coaching stints thrown in, with Cleveland and Minnesota. He looks intimidating on the sideline when usually giving death glares at JaVale McGee, but was very engaging when he filled in for Saunders last season. Wittman played under Bob Knight at Indiana University, won a National Championship in 1981, was Big 10 player of Year in 1983, and was actually drafted by the Washington Bullets before being traded to the Atlanta Hawks. I found this interesting Wittman nugget about the Hoosiers 63-50 victory over North Carolina in the ’81 title game (via Hoosier Historia):

North Carolina had led early, 8-2, then 16-8. “It didn’t look good then,” Knight said. “We were on the verge of being blown out.”

Wittman hit four shots from long range and Landon Turner powered to three baskets inside to deliver the halftime lead.

“They were playing zone and mostly giving us the outside shot,” Wittman said. He had to ask for the last one.

Isiah Thomas was scanning the court when Wittman thought he had lost track of time.

“When it got down to :05, I yelled at him,” Wittman said. “Al Wood was way off me, looking for something to the inside.”

Wittman shouted, “Come on!” Thomas slipped him the ball and Wittman’s shot was barely out of his hand before the buzzer sounded.

“That was the most important play of the game,” Thomas said of Wittman’s shot. “It gave us momentum.”

#3) How far does firing Flip go toward resolving larger organizational issues?

WEIDIE: It resolves 10-percent of the issues, at best. Flip was far from what was wrong with this team, but it became more and more evident that he wasn’t the right guy to instill toughness in a roster full of guys who don’t know the meaning of the word. On January 14 Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog, “I am not afraid of change. I am just sanguine that a change in coaching doesn’t always correct all deficiencies of an organization.” It was in a post about the coaching carousel in hockey, but so clearly aimed toward Wizards fans. The organization is still very deficient, so what’s next Ted?

MOBLEY: The Indianapolis Colts fired their coach and GM, and they might get rid of Peyton Manning and bring in Andrew Luck.  All four moves would be designed to bring wholesale changes to a organization that is currently at the bottom. For the Wizards to bring about that type of change, the firing of Flip is the first step, the removal of Grunfeld is another, and so is the removal of Nick Young and Andray Blatche.  If Ted Leonsis is going to win fans (and eventually games), he is going to have to admit his plan A has been scrapped for plan B and make some productive changes.

McGINNIS: For a lack of a better metaphor, Ernie Grunfeld still is the elephant that looms largest in the room, and Flip’s removal does nothing to solve the bigger institutional issues. This roster is Grunfeld’s vision. His drafts over the past two years have been better, but they do not change the past nor his lack of imagination. Grunfeld’s decision-making always seems to be more reactionary than proactive (until another team needs to trade with Washington for cap space). Goal number one is getting another young-ish superstar to grow with John Wall or this team risks disenchantment and defection of their star. Let Nick Young walk, amnesty Andray Blatche, buy out Rashard Lewis, and possibly trade JaVale McGee. Heralded and respected ex-Portland GM Kevin Pritchard is available to make these slam dunk moves and mold the team around Wall.

Again with the clipboad toss…

Kyle Weidie on EmailKyle Weidie on GoogleKyle Weidie on InstagramKyle Weidie on LinkedinKyle Weidie on TwitterKyle Weidie on Youtube
Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.

  • larry smith

    Dra and Nick are the only players that the fans like. So what are you saying. And this is what young think’s about the wizards, flush it.

  • “Let Nick Young walk, amnesty Andray Blatche, buy out Rashard Lewis, and possibly trade JaVale McGee. Heralded and respected ex-Portland GM Kevin Pritchard is available to make these slam dunk moves and mold the team around Wall.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. These things must happen, but it will require lots of money on Leonsis’ part.

    Javale is good enough that we can afford to see how he does under a new coach, and if he fails, we can trade him.

  • Izzy,
    I wouldn’t give away JaVale. He makes bonehead plays, but he’s improving. plus his skillset isn’t easily duplicated. Dray and Nick on the other hand can be relieved of their duties..

  • AjFromTheDMV

    Honestly, I think it’s only going to get worse. We have been hoping for ‘Better Days’ for a while now.

  • Robert


    I agree the Wiz shouldn’t GIVE away McGee. That said, he is not improving. Once you are in your 4th season, you pretty much are what you are. What we see from McGee is what we can expect for the next 5-7 years. He is what he is. (a guy who doesn’t play winning basketball)

    Also, am I the only one who thinks Shelvin Mack deserves to be the starting PG? When he ran the point in the last 9 or so minutes of the last night’s game, the team looked like it was functioning decently on offense for the first time all year. He actually RAN the TEAM from the PG position. It wasn’t by coincidence that the lead went from 30 to a little as 16 while he was in.

  • Michael

    The last thing I would do is mold the team around Wall the way he is played this season. Second in the league in turnovers per game and can’t shoot a lick. Definitely not a guy to build your franchise around the way he has played. I’m still not even convinced he is capable of being an NBA point guard, let alone someone you can build around. He seems more suited as a spark off the bench the way he is played the last two years.

    Obviously they need to get rid of Grunfeld. I’d hang onto McGee and Singleton. I’d also see if I can get Wilson Chandler. Overpay if you have to because it isn’t like they will be spending money elsewhere. Need to reach that salary floor anyways. Everyone else is expendable as far as I’m concerned.

  • Michael


    Not improving? Huh? He is on pace to be an all-star in this league some day soon. He is a physical freak of nature. And he stays healthy for being such a big and young guy.

    I’m not sure who you think is out there that can replace McGee as the center of the future on this roster.

    Agree with you on Mack though.

  • Jake

    Gotta second what Izzy said. Moving JaVale is problematic because, as we saw with Nick this offseason, the rest of the league does not value our players all that highly. That said, he’s 7 feet tall and hugely gifted athletically. My guess is that he’d thrive in a different situation. If we can get good value, it might be worth it to move on to complete the wholesale move away from the Gilbert days.

    More than any other move, though, Ernie must go. He’s the architect of this crumbling franchise, and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him to get these next few years – probably two of the most important years in the history of the franchise – right.

  • Michael

    If DeAndre Jordan can get $10 million per year, McGee will certainly be offered $11 million by someone.

    No way you can compare McGee’s value to Nick Young.

  • “Flip Saunders was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Washington Wizards today.” And I am sure he is relieved now that he does not have to coach a bunch of immature lazy a$$ malcontents. Deep down I know he was BEGGING TO BE FIRED.

  • Nich Obert

    It feels weird saying this, but I don’t think I want to give Grunfeld too much heat after the last 2 years of moves.

    While the Blatche contract is an albatross now, I still think it was a reasonable gamble after how strongly he played the last 30ish games of the 09-10 season. It didn’t pay off, and thankfully they didn’t burn their Amnesty Clause on Rashard Lewis in an effort to sign a FA before this season. I’m assuming that Blatche will be out the door right after the trade deadline if they can’t find anyone to take him. Unfortunately, every other team in the league understands that if the Wiz amnesty him, they’ll get him cheaper so there isn’t any point in anybody trading for him.

    Hinrich for Crawford seemed like a steal when Crawford’s shot was falling, and that move was really only about the salary until Crawford flashed potential anyway.

    I also loved the 1 year contract for Nick Young . There’s nothing about his demeanor that makes me think he’d play better with a sense of security. Keeping him in ‘Play For The Money’ mode for another year seems to have resulted in some much improved defense (at times)

    Javale’s in the same boat as Nick Young with another year to show some proof that he’s worth holding onto. If not, I think there will be some GMs who are convinced Javale’s only problem is the situation he’s in and he could be a valuable trade chip.

    The other valuable trade chip will be Sweet Lew’s $22 million dollar expiring contract..Lord knows what they could actually get for it that doesn’t involve some Amare/Joe Johnson type tombstone contract, but I could see teams biting on a Javale/Lewis combo for 2 solid veterans whose contracts may be a little long for their current teams taste. Who? Beats me, but the picture should get clearer.

    As for the draft.. I really love the Wizards past 2 drafts, I think they did a great job of putting together some young dynamic guys who could easily congeal around some *proper* veteran leadership and become a nice core.
    Wall still seems dicey as the #1 overall, but i’d guess every team without an outright franchise PG would have selected him there. Booker & Singleton were great picks. Vesely and Seraphin are showing flashes but are still projects. Shelvin Mack is the man.

    I hope my glasses aren’t too rose colored..I just feel like the rebuild is right where we should have expected it to be. Yes, Young, Crawford, McGee and Blatche are knuckleheads, but I can only see McGee and possibly Crawford being here next year. I think the Gilbert-poison will really drain once Young & Blatche are gone.
    Hopefully once the Wiz start overpaying FAs in an attempt to convince them to play here they’ll choose wisely. It’s all going to come down to which 2-3 guys they add, and I’ve liked their talent evaluation lately so I’m optimistic.

  • Michael

    @Nich- Wow I couldn’t disagree with you possibly anymore on anything you wrote.

    1.) Blatche wasn’t a gamble. Blatche had 2 years left on his deal. Ernie not only extended it, but doubled his salary for the remaining 2 years based on less than a 1/2 season of play on team that was losing virtually every game. There was no gamble involved. It was a dumb decision.

    2.) Crawford’s shot has never been falling. He was shooting below 40% last year and this year. It was a steal for Atlanta because they got rid of a guy who doesn’t deserve to be in the league for a starting caliber player.

    3.) Young move was fine. But that wasn’t great GM work. That was Young deciding he would rather accept a qualifying offer than sign a multi-year deal in the hopes of getting a higher pay day.

    4.) Javale is more than worth holding onto and will walk next year for nothing if the Wizards don’t pay him at least $40 million next summer.

    5.) Lewis isn’t a valuable trade chip. If there is no market for Kevin Garnett by all reports, there definitely isn’t a market for Lewis. And no, I have no interest in trading Javale. Finding quality centers is extremely hard in this league, let alone ones with all-star potential.

    6.) This past year’s draft was good. But the one before that? Seraphin and Booker in the 1st round while having Blatche on a 5 year contract? That makes sense how again? Also, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Evan Turner turns out to be better than John Wall. That is still to be decided, but could definitely impact how we view that draft.

    And lastly, we have been rebuilding for almost 3 years now and we are 2-14 this season being far and away the worst team in the league. No way you can convince me that this is where the “rebuild” should be.

  • musicmanjr

    Gotta be careful about “getting rid of all the malcontents.” #1, the Wizards won’t get fair market value for Young or McGee. Wall and Blatche are still under contract and also won’t get the players that Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld would want in return. #2, If we keep cleaning house, we stay in REBUILDING mode forever.

    Let’s do ONE thing at a time. We’ve “relieved” Flip. Now, let’s see the interim coach do his thing and work on getting maximum effort out of Wall, Young, Blatch, McGee, Booker, Mack, Vesely and Crawford.

  • ren

    i think the easy stuff everyone seems to agree with: 1. amnesty blatche, 2. buyout lewis

    But neither of those things can happen till this summer. So in the mean time, washington to address two other issues using trades:

    1. trade away nick young. I can see minnessotta biting on that and maybe giving back maybe a wayle ellington.
    2. Trade away jordan crawford to anyone who wants him for anything they are willing to give you.

    So you have gotten rid of most of the bad by this summer. But what do you do next? Do you resign McGee? I say a knucklehead who produces is better than the ones who dont. So keep him draft a high character guy sign a high character free agent and start moving from there.

  • thomloverrosthirdchin

    New staff=darvin ham,rod strickland,jerry sloan
    New gm =danny ferry or David falk
    New talent=putting jeff green at sf=player who won in hs,college,pros
    unselfish play+player development+power broker=true rebuild

  • szr

    I would love to see Grunfeld go and Kevin Pritchard brought it. Adam really nailed it, I think.

    As far as what to do now? Most of us agree that Lewis and Blatche are gone this summer. I would let Nick Young leave too. Crawford should be gone too.

    I think it would be crazy to trade McGee. He is has made significant strides, and doesn’t seem to be done. Yes, players generally peak at age 25, but getting a quality center is no easy task in this league.

    I like Booker who is cheap and productive. I like Singleton for the same reasons. I think Wall could be amazing, but he needs to become much more consistent.

    The truth is that we’re in a difficult spot – we are pretty light on players worth trading, and I’m not sure the draft is going to save us.

  • Chris

    Couldn’t agree more with Mobley about the changes needed. I have nothing against Ernie Grunfeld as a person, but he’s a disastrously bad NBA GM. He built terrible, top-heavy underachievers in Milwaukee and New York, and his career has been more or less defined by really bad contracts. I doubt he’ll ever get another GM job in the NBA once the Wizards cut him loose.

    Look at his draft history in New York: Monty Williams and Charlie Ward in 1994, nobody in 1995, John Wallace, Walter McCarty, and Dontae Jones in 1996, John Thomas in 1997, Demarco Johnson and Sean Marks in 1998, and Frederic Weis and J.R. Koch in 1998.

    The guy’s a mess.

    And Nick Young and Andray Blatche need to go, if for no other reason than they need a fresh start and a clean break from their recent past. They’ve got some new building blocks, guys who weren’t spoiled by the Arenas/Jamison/Butler show and who may not have yet been spoiled by this current run of futility. Start there, cut everyone else loose, and build a new culture.

  • Incandescent Rex

    Fire Grunfeld too. If only to get a fresh pair of GM eyes on this mess. Also, with a new GM we won’t have to worry that Ernie’s ego would prevent him from “admitting a mistake” and getting rid of players he acquired (i.e. Blatche)

  • How much money would Teddy have to put up to court John Thompson Jr.? Big JT not current Gtown coach JT3. The Wizards pretty much have a college squad averaging 21.1 years of age if we let go of Blatche, Evans,Lewis and Mason. You saw what happened when the Marine came and said some words, why not have someone that warrants that type of repect year round for these Wiz Kids?

  • Nich Obert

    “1.) Blatche wasn’t a gamble. Blatche had 2 years left on his deal. Ernie not only extended it, but doubled his salary for the remaining 2 years based on less than a 1/2 season of play on team that was losing virtually every game. There was no gamble involved. It was a dumb decision”

    – Ok you’re right. For some reason I thought that his contract was going to expire and they just gave him a new deal.
    -I’m all for keeping McGee, I’m also all for listening to any offers that come around. He’s the kind of player where there are probably a few GMs that would overpay for him and a few GMs that wouldn’t touch him. The important thing is excising Blatche & Young first.

    -As for Garnett and Lewis..God i guess you’re right. I started looking through the HoopsHype salaries page and there aren’t nearly as many terrible $15 million dollar contracts floating around the NBA as there used to be.

  • Nich Obert

    And I thought Charlotte (and Detroit) was worse than the Wizards. One win over them doesn’t prove anything, but I’d much rather have our team than theirs.