Now that we know who the Wizards next head coach is going to be, we can begin to focus on examining his coaching style and what changes Flip Saunders will bring to the team next season. To get a better idea of what he brings to the table, we asked Canis Hoopus some questions about their former coach so we know what to look for next season.
1. Let's start off with the basics, what would you say Flip's greatest strengths and weaknesses are as a coach?
Flip's greatest strength is that he runs an offense that is geared around ball movement and mid range jump shooting. His greatest weakness is that he runs an offense that is geared around ball movement and mid range jump shooting. In his last 3 seasons as the Wolves coach, the team placed 25th, 26th, and dead last in free throw attempts. It's fun to watch during the regular season but not getting to the line eventually catches up with him. In his last 2 years in Detroit, the Pistons finished 22nd in the league in terms of FTAs. Of course, it should also be mentioned that when Flip had a guy who could get into the lane on his own (see Marbury, Stephon), the team placed in the top-10 in free throw shooting, both in 96 and 97. The question for Wizards fans about Flip's coaching probably has more to do with their faith in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Nick Young's ability to get to the line than it does about the system they will play in. That being said, I'll tell you right away that Butler is exactly the type of player who will excel in Flip's system. Flip may have had KG, but after Starbury, it was hit and miss with guards and swingmen. The one year he did have 2 perimeter players he could count on (Spree and Sam), things went well. Of course...well, KG is pretty hard to overlook no matter how you slice it.
2. In your opinion, what led to Flip's downfall in Minnesota and do you think his firing was justified?
He wasn't Kevin McHale and no, it was not justified. He was the first in a line of 3 coaches (the others are Dwane Casey and Randy Wittman) to pay for McHale's sins of not being able to surround KG with enough talent to win a championship. McHale is finally paying the piper and he will probably walk away at the end of the season.
3. Flip is well known for his offensive coaching ability. In what aspects of the offense did Flip improve the team the most?
This is a tough question to answer. Before Flip took over, the Wolves were a terrible, terrible basketball team. In his first full year as a coach, he had KG, Steph, and Tom Gugliotta. It's pretty hard to separate exactly where Flip's coaching skills started and player improvement ended, but the team improved on both ends of the court as soon as he took over. He's not a slouch when it comes to defense. He wins with offense, but not at the complete expense of defense. Of course, you have to factor in KG on this end of the court and I'm not sure the Wizards have anything remotely approaching that sort of defensive player. As for the offense, get ready for lots of ball movement, screens, and mid range jumpers.
4. Obviously, the Wizards are going to need to improve defensively in order to take the next step. Looking at the numbers, Flip's defenses in Minnesota seemed to range from great to average during his time there. Is that a byproduct of good defensive coaching from Flip or the result of having an All-World defensive talent like Kevin Garnett?
I think the model you should look for here is how Flip handled the Pistons after Larry Brown left. As mentioned in the previous answer, I don't think the Wizards have a player that comes close to approaching what KG was. They do have a bunch of nice players that are probably more on the level of what Detroit had in the year they won it all. The Pistons were a fantastic defensive club in the year they won the finals. The year after, they slipped a bit, and the year after that (when Flip took over) they slipped a bit more. Flip's teams will typically end up in the 103-107 points/100 possessions range on defense. This season the Wizards gave up over 113 points/100 possessions. My guess is that he'll bring that down a bit simply by (hopefully) having a healthy squad, but if the Wizards are going to win, they will probably end up with a DE of 107-109 and an OE right around 110...which will probably get them a first round exit in the playoffs. Flip isn't an in-your-face kind of coach. He's more of a laid-back Minnesotan kind of guy who expects that his players will play hard because it's their job. That worked well here in Minny because of guys like Sam Mitchell and KG. I'm not sure what the Wizards have in terms of locker room police, but if you want Flip to succeed, you had better hope someone in that locker room can lay down the law after a poor night's effort.
5. The Washington Post is reporting that Flip is planning on bringing in Sam Cassell as an assistant coach on his staff. Based on their time together in Minnesota, do you think this will be a good pairing?
Flip has always gone out of his way to defend Cassell. He does some local radio appearances here on AM 1130 KFAN and every few weeks the question of Sam I Am comes up. During his last season as a Wolf, Cassell would literally walk into the opposing locker room and ask to be traded. Flip always defended Cassell as a player. He always says that Cassell played hurt during the 2004 WCF run and that people need to realize just how much he gave to that season. I obviously don't have the first clue about what went on behind closed doors in the locker room but the words "coach" and "Sam Cassell" just don't seem to go together all that well.
Many thanks to Canis Hoopus for their insight into Flip's tenure in Minnesota. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll ask Motown String Music about Flip's time in Detroit.