I need to weigh in with my opinion for which candidate would be the best choice for the next Wizard's Head Coach. Ernie Grunfeld has stated that the Wizards are determined to hire a winning, veteran coach. The team has a nice mix of veteran starters and young guys on the bench. I suspect that Management (Grunfeld and Pollin) won't want to wait for a rookie Head Coach to get his feet on the ground, so they'll opt for a veteran Coach that can win now....., Therefore, I'm going to drop Tom Thibodeau and Mark Jackson from my list.
In my opinion, that leaves only two guys.
Let's look at the two main candidates:
Avery Johnson - "The Little General". I like Johnson's coaching style - but only in certain situations. In my opinion, Avery would be perfect for a young team like OKC or Memphis. His demanding and controlling style, defense first philosophy, and intensity could be used to mold a young team into a Playoff squad. If he has enough talent, and if the players really buy into his system, Avery Johnson could be coachning a real contender for the Championship for a long time.
But if you put him in charge of a veteran team, lead by a veteran Point Guard, he may soon find out they will no longer listen to him. That's exactly what happened in Dallas. Johnson tried to turn Jason Kidd into a jump-shooter and took away all of Kidd's ability to create. Avery completely shut down the Maverick's running game and continually called half-court set plays - with Kidd as a 3rd option jump shooter. Sure, Dallas played better defense, but they were one of the most boring offensive teams in the League and one of the least efficient offenses in the West. When he left the Mavericks, Avery Johnson said he thought part of the problem was that he didn't have "a point guard that could create opportunities off the dribble". Huh? He had JASON KIDD !
If the Wizards hire Avery Johnson, I think it will take less than half a season before Arenas and Johnson are at eath other's throats. There's too much talent on the roster to miss the playoffs, but I can't see Avery Johnson inspiring this group to play at their peak abilities.
Flip Saunders - In Minnesota, Flip was not able to get a mediocre team to over-achieve. However, when Minnesota helped augment Kevin Garnet by adding talent to the roster (Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell) they won 50 games. Then they won 47 games. Then they won 50 again. Then they went to the Western Conference Finals. None of those early Minnesota teams had enough talent to get past first-round in the Playoffs. When they acquired Cassell and Sprewell, they went straight to the Conference Finals.
In Detroit, Flip inherited a very good veteran Pistons team - and in 2005 set a francise record for wins with a 64-18 record. Saunders continually got the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Finals...Losing to Miami, Cleveland and Boston in consecutive years.
The point here is that if you give Flip Saunders enough talent, he has shown that he can take a veteran team as far as the Conference Finals. Do the Wizards have enough talent to go further? Only time will tell.
As for Saunder's coaching style: He's a decent "X's and O's" guy (much better than Eddie Jordan or Ed Tapscott). He makes good in-game adjustments, something recent Wizard's Head Coaches have been unable to do. His teams share the ball, and are very unselfish. He likes to run. He likes the 3-point shot. His teams have always played very good defense. He plays a type of "match-up zone" defense that may help to hide some of the Wizard's individual player deficiencies. He's an extremely adaptable coach. That came from his days in the CBA.
Here's some quotes from Flip that may give you some insight:
"Don’t try to pound your philosophy into a group who maybe can’t play that way"
"…We are going to play some zone defense. That is something that I really do believe in."
“I’m not the type of guy that will browbeat you. I believe in positive reinforcement to encourage my players.”
“What you do as a coach is you look at your personnel. What you do is adapt."
Saunders will be the perfect match for this team of veterans who know how to play the game the correct way. The Wizards are very good on offense, rebound the ball, have a deep and talented bench, play unselfishly and know how to win. Saunders has been around a long time and understands that sometimes less is more. He did not come into Detroit trying to change things drastically, and I expect he'll do the same in Washington. My guess is that he'll install his match-up zone defensive philosophy, and just tweak the Offense - and let em run.
Negatives? Some former players (Rip Hamilton for one) have said that he failed to hold certain players accountable for their actions. That could eventually become a problem - as we saw with Eddie Jordan - but I think you would probably eventually get that same complaint about any "player's coach".