Flip Saunders on Building John Wall and Cleaning Gutters | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Flip Saunders on Building John Wall and Cleaning Gutters

Updated: December 17, 2014

[Flip, John, and Sam -- Wizards 2010 NBA Summer League, Las Vegas -- photo: K. Weidie]

[Flip, John, and Sam — Wizards 2010 NBA Summer League, Las Vegas — photo: K. Weidie]

Flip Saunders returned to Washington to coach his first game since his last game as Wizards Head Coach, which was on January 23, 2012, a loss to the 76ers in Philadelphia that pushed Washington’s record to 2-15. Saunders was relieved of his duties the next day. His rebuilding, and depleted, Minnesota Timberwolves challenged the Wizards in spurts on Tuesday night, but were ultimately wiped across the floor by Washington, 109-95.

The veteran coach certainly had a strong imprint on John Wall’s entry into the NBA—he imparted on Wall his experience with point guards from Stephon Marbury to Chauncey Billups. You could even say that the coach helped develop Nick Young, who went from never playing defense to sometimes playing defense under Saunders’ tutelage. Young still needs work, a lot of it. Wall is a different story.

“He’s gonna be better,” Saunders said about Wall after the game. He was asked if this is where he thought the No. 1 draft pick would be when the Wizards got him in 2010, or if Wall has exceeded Saunders’ expectations. “I think everyone thought this is where he’d be—[with] his ability to dominate a game in a lot of different ways, not just by scoring.”

“He was a kid when I had him, a baby,” said the coach, when asked about differences in Wall between now and then. “He’s turned into a man now.”

Saunders next couldn’t help but mention the changes in Wall’s surroundings since he left.

“It’s a little bit different throwing the ball to Nene, Gortat, Paul Pierce than it is throwing it to JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and those guys. So they’ve done a good job of getting a supporting cast that works with him.”

Saunders went on to concede that, because he and Randy Wittman run similar offensive systems, there were times on Tuesday evening when Wall “knew our plays better than we did, probably.” Wall’s improved communication from a rookie to a veteran in his fifth season was appropriately lauded. Does Flip wish he had more of a chance in Washington? He didn’t say it, but the surrounding words were enough.

“Flip joked today that if his players wonder if their system really does work, he tells them just to look at the Wizards. ‘They’re 17-6.’ ” tweeted Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune before the game versus Washington. Saunders gave a light-hearted but slightly uncomfortable chuckle when a reporter said, “You were right, your system works,” during the coach’s post-game media session.

Saunders was hired in 2009 by Ernie Grunfeld as a veteran coach with playoff experience who knew his way around an offense. The honeymoon didn’t last long and the season soon morphed into a disaster in personality management, both on the court and in the locker room. The Wizards, at the time expected by pundits to compete for a top spot in the East, started 8-17 before that fateful locker room encounter between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton. Saunders achieved a record of 51-130 in Washington and was asked on Tuesday night what he took from that experience, in particular the rebuilding part as it applies to his situation in Minnesota.

“I had some conversations with Ted (Leonsis) and also with Ernie Grunfeld [before leaving]. What I’m happy about is that even though I got let go, they kept our people here—Randy and those people. And they’re pretty much running the same system that we have, and they showed patience even though that first year they were 5-28. Even though John was hurt, they showed patience.”

Saunders went on to reiterate patience, how sometimes you have to “bite your lip” and let the young guys play, and how as he departed, he advised on which young players might help going forward and which ones might not—talent evaluation is something all rebuilding teams need to do. The former coach indicated that Washington ended up getting rid of the ‘might nots’—guess who they were. Saunders, in essence, played the victim of circumstance card. (JaVale McGee later responded to Flip’s name-drop on Twitter.)

Saunders’ old friend Wittman took the reigns and driven the hansom cab like a pro, effecting a culture change, certainly in the locker room with help from the front office, but most visibly on the floor, defensively. The Wizards are 18-6, a half game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But you won’t see Wittman’s name mentioned in any coach of the year conversations this early in the season.

Why is that?

“Just because Washington hasn’t [gotten respect nationally, just yet]. There’s no question, if they keep on winning his name will be,” said Saunders. He is certainly happy for Randy, but you get the feeling that Flip probably wishes it were him.

Flip Saunders on John Wall


Saunders on Rebuilding and Wittman


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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 currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.