Washington Wizards: Remembering Flip Saunders’ Time In D.C.


The basketball world lost a great one yesterday. Flip Saunders, who coached the Washington Wizards from 2009-2012, passed away at the age of 60.

Unsurprisingly, the basketball world was immediately flooded with emotions. Flip has been around the game for longer than many fans have been alive. Without Flip Saunders, Kevin Garnett wouldn’t be Kevin Garnett. We never would’ve seen the full development of a number of future Hall-of-Fame players.

Flip coached the Detroit Pistons to a franchise record 64-wins. He tallied over 1,000 wins throughout his coaching career. Flip represented everything that basketball should be. He handled losses with grace and was respected by virtually everyone in the league. From the front office executives to the folks sitting courtside, everyone admired the way Flip carried himself. He was a basketball lifer.

After finishing his long stint with the Pistons, Flip was hired to coach the Washington Wizards — a team looking to become a championship contender, similar to Detroit. Flip expected to coach a team led by All-Stars Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

That team needed someone who could take them to the next level. Flip was that guy.

I remember how excited I was when the Washington Wizards hired Flip Saunders. Finally, the Wizards had gotten a coach who knew how to win. They got a coach who knew how to get the most out of his players.

Then, unfortunately, GunGate happened.

Arenas’ locker room incident ended all the hopes we had after Flip Saunders was hired. Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of the front office had to clean out the locker room — quite literally.

Shortly after GunGate, Arenas and the rest of the core was traded. Flip Saunders was left with scraps and a team that couldn’t have been coached to a winning season if Phil Jackson was the leader and Red Auerbach was the assistant.

After that miserable 2009 NBA season, the Washington Wizards had landed the top draft pick. They selected John Wall, a 19-year-old point guard from Kentucky.

Flip, like all of us, was extremely excited to have the hungry young guard in Washington:

"Flip Saunders after the Wizards drafted Wall: Point guards are not made; they’re delivered from heaven. And I believe [John Wall] was delivered from heaven."

(h/t BulletsForever)

Flip was right. Wall was exactly what the Washington Wizards needed. He was a youthful, energetic point guard who was eager to learn. But he also needed guidance.

Flip was tasked with coaching a team comprised of knuckleheads, to put it bluntly. These players weren’t bad people necessarily, but they were bad players. They didn’t know how to play the game of basketball correctly. The coach will inevitably get the blame, but in hindsight, we know why the Wizards weren’t successful under coach Flip Saunders: they had a horrendous roster.

The likes of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young are not winning basketball players. They never have been nor will they ever be.

Blatche is currently out of the NBA and McGee is fighting for a roster spot with the Dallas Mavericks. Young is a borderline rotation player and journeyman. Flip was asked to find a way to win, which is something no one on the planet could’ve done.

But Flip wasn’t ready to quit. He preached patience. Though every player on the roster was inexperience and unready to play winning ball, Flip wanted everyone to know that it would take time. He appreciated the players who worked hard in practice and rewarded them for their efforts.

Flip wasn’t naive; he knew that this team couldn’t win. He asked the front office to make changes, but he never went out of his way to create issues. Other coaches would’ve stirred up trouble, but Flip never did. He was that kind of person.

His firing was inevitable, but we can’t pretend that he didn’t lay the foundation for success. Flip wanted the team to play hard defense, which is something they did once the right pieces were put together. Randy Wittman continued to run the same system that Flip ran, and here we are today.

From his friend Randy Wittman to Blatche, everyone was touched by Flip Saunders. His work ethic was contagious and his desire to win was evident. He made sure to let the players know that he cared, because he did. Flip truly cared about each and every single player on the roster, even if they didn’t always get along. Flip was a caring person and his coaching reflected that.

Things didn’t go according to plan for Flip Saunders in Washington. He was put in an extremely difficult situation, but never backed down from the challenge. After all, basketball was something Flip had loved his entire life. Whether it was coaching a perennial contender in Detroit or a miserable loser in Washington, Flip always had respect for everyone involved.

We lost a great one yesterday, truly. Flip’s legacy will continue with Ryan Saunders, who coached along side his father in Washington and Minnesota. It will take some time to heal, but the memories will continue to live on. We’ll continue to keep Flip’s family and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers.

Next: 10 Bold Predictions For The Wizards' Season

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