Saunders to be unveiled Thursday as Wizards coach
JOSEPH WHITE | 4/22/2009, 11:15 a.m.
Flip Saunders officially has the job on the Washington Wizards' bench, complete with an $18 million, four-year contract and the task of picking up the pieces from one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The Wizards said Wednesday that Saunders will be their new coach, confirming one of the worst-kept secrets of the NBA. Saunders and the Wizards reached an oral agreement more than a week ago, and the 54-year-old coach signed the deal Tuesday night.
Saunders will be formally introduced at a news conference on Thursday. Saunders succeeds interim coach Ed Tapscott, who finished the season when Eddie Jordan was fired after a 1-10 start. Jordan led the Wizards to four straight playoff appearances, but long-term injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood doomed the season from the start.
Tapscott, who had never coached in the NBA, went 18-53. The 19-63 overall record matched the franchise's worst over an 82-game season. Arenas missed 80 games with knee problems and Haywood missed 76 with a torn wrist ligament, accounting for roughly half of the team's 309 man-games lost to due to injuries. Saunders has a career record of 587-396 over 13 NBA seasons, 10 with Minnesota and three with Detroit. He has seven 50-win seasons and has reached the conference finals four times, once with the Timberwolves and three times with the Pistons.
His failure to reach the NBA finals with Detroit cost Saunders his job a year ago, when he was fired with one year remaining on this contract. Saunders did not coach this season, but he was a special guest coach at the Wizards training camp in October, assisting the team during practices and meetings.
The No. 1 item on Saunders' agenda for success in Washington will be something largely beyond his control: The Wizards haven't had all their top players healthy at the start of a season since 2006. A consistent lineup of Arenas, Haywood, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison plus a lottery draft pick should make the team postseason contenders once again.
Saunders will also have to grapple with maturity issues among Washington's younger players. Even Arenas, who has been known to be a handful himself, has indicated that the Wizards need to stop being "a goofball team."
"Sometimes you just need new scenery," Arenas said last week. "And here comes new scenery. So we'll see what happens. It's all good on paper but right now, but at the end of the day, you never know what you have until November."