There's one iconic image of Flip Saunders from today's press conference that tells you all you need to know about the guy.
It's after the press conference is officially over, and several of the reporters presented have either left or gone to begin filing their stories. A handful of reporters still remain, including NBA.com's David Aldridge and myself. Flip's just spent nearly 30 minutes answering questions, and at least 15 of those minutes were on the subject of Gilbert Arenas. Now, he's just answered yet another question about Arenas, and one of the reporters asked jokingly if he's ever received so many questions about a single player.
Flip's response? "Yeah, I did coach Rasheed Wallace."
The group chuckles, but Flip's face is pretty stoic. It was almost as if he didn't get why what he said was so funny. It wasn't meant to be, after all. He was just stating the fact that he's used to dealing with a lot of questions about a crazy dude.
That's kind of how Flip Saunders is, and we saw it at its best today. The only times he says something just to get a quote in the papers is when he stumbles into it. He wasn't there to crack jokes and make provocative statements; he was there to talk basketball. And talk basketball he did. There was a lot of substance in what he said, even if sometimes it took a while and a lot of good listening to get to it.
Below the jump, some highlights of the press conference and some quotes.
Gilbert Arenas off the court
There was obviously a lot of talk about how Flip would relate to Gilbert Arenas off the court, in terms of the intangible stuff. Many have said Flip can be too soft on his players, but he sounded pretty demanding about what he expected from Gilbert off the court.
"He has to understand -- which I think he's learned a lot -- that this whole thing is a process and you have to go through the process to get to where you want to get," Saunders said, later referencing the need to understand the process by which one recovers from an injury.
(Process was actually the word of the day for Flip. When asked what he learned in Detroit, one thing he said was that he learned you couldn't "cheat the process" to get good).
Saunders said he has challenged Arenas to both be a leader and a mentor for younger players, and also said he'd be harder on him than any other player on the squad. But before you get the idea that Flip is being demanding because Gilbert is doing something wrong, Flip wanted to let you know that the two share a lot in common.
"I haven't sugercoated anything with Gilbert, and I think he's done the same. That's one of the reasons we've had a pretty good relationship. We kind of say it how it is."
Gilbert Arenas on the court
There was also lots of talk today about how Gilbert Arenas would play in Flip's system. None of this talk should be too surprising, since we've talked about it pretty much all summer, but Flip did reiterate that he expects to play Arenas almost exclusively as a point guard. Flip said that he expects Arenas to set people up, but also doesn't want him to lose his aggressiveness as far as scoring goes.
"He has a great opportunity to improve a lot, because he's going to have the ball in his hands like never before. He's going to be able to make those decisions and get guys open shots." Later, Flip added: "It's on him to key the offense and understand that when a guy gets hot, he has to go back to that play. It's a situation that can be more rewarding for him."
Flip also made several comparisons between Arenas and Chauncey Billups.
"Chauncey Billups heard the same things [Arenas did], and now all of a sudden, people are saying he's the prototype point guard. I think it's one of those situations that you learn," he said.
Finding the shooting guard that can do many things
Flip did not make any specific proclamations as far as who would win the starting shooting guard job, but he made it pretty clear what he's looking for in that position.
You have to be able to do a little bit of everything," he said. "I like players who are multi-dimensional players. I do not like one-dimensional players. A one-dimensional player becomes too easy for other teams to play against. They become very specialized, which you can use if you want, like a three-point shooter, but the player who you want to give extended minutes at that position has got to be a multi-dimensional player.
In case you were wondering, Flip considers defense a major part of doing a "little bit of everything."
"When you say shooting guard, the number one thing is, you got to be able to defend your position," he said. "If you can't defend your position, it really puts your team behind the eight ball."
As far as specific players, Flip mentioned everyone at some point, but did mention that Nick Young had a good summer in particular. He was also asked later about the Minnesota guys -- Mike Miller and Randy Foye -- and had a lot to say about Miller.
"Everyone talks about how Mike [Miller] didn’t have a great year, but he shot 47 percent from [two-point range] and 37 percent from three, which most two guards would die for," Saunders said. "He led the two guards in rebounding, and he’s got one of the best playmaking values from the two or three spot. He’s a big guy – he’s as tall as Antawn – so when you have the ability to play him at the two or the three, your team becomes very long and you can do a lot of different things defensively."
More defense talk
Ah, defense, the one area where I wished I would have heard more people ask about. We were able to sneak in a few questions about the defense, but I would love to learn more about what Flip wants to do to improve that end of the floor.
One thing Flip did mention, as he has before, was how he expected the teams' defense to improve with smarter offense.
"Poor defensive teams beat you on your offense. They score a lot on your poor shot selection, poor balance as far as where your shots are taken," Saunders said. "The number one thing you want to try to do as a team and a coach is to improve your transition defense, because that’s the easiest opportunity for teams to score against you."
Odds and ends
- Flip on the differences between the Princeton offense and his system: "One thing we try to do moreso than the Princeton is take advantage of mismatches. If we see someone that can’t guard somebody, he’s going to be left on an island out there, he’s going to have to guard that guy by himself. That’s the biggest difference."
- Flip on his substitution patterns: "My philosophy has been that you try to win the beginning and the end of quarters ... if you can be successful in those 20 minutes, you're going to win the game."
- Flip on three-point defense: "Most of the time, three-point shots are going to happen on transition and penetration, when you’re going to have to give help, and the guy that gives help leaves people open. Usually, the end result started two or three seconds prior to the shot."
Flip on the sneaky-effectiveness of his zone defense: "If you assume that, by the time they get the ball up the court, there’s 18 seconds on the clock, it may take them another four seconds to figure out what you’re in. We play a matchup zone, so it’s a zone with man-to-man principles, and the best part is when guys are on the floor [arguing] ‘They’re in a zone. No, they’re in a man!’"