I come here not to bury Flip Saunders, nor to praise him. Instead, I believe that his dismissal should instead be viewed as a continuation of the status quo at the Verizon Center, and one that should bring no small amount of worry to Wizards fans who are currently celebrating the exit of a coach who had lost his way.
To understand this problem correctly, I believe that one has to return to the last days of Eddie Jordan, another tenured head coach of the organization who was dumped at the side of the road by the organization after leading through what was arguably the most successful period in the franchise's modern era. At the time of Jordan's dismissal, fans were calling for his head due to many of the same issues that resulted in Flip's firing -- the young players were not getting time, the coach had "lost the players" and the substitution patterns remained baffling. Eddie Jordan had to go because he wasn't getting results with all that "talent," and now Flip Saunders is being let loose for the same reason.
However, one salient point gets lost amidst all the chatter: neither coach was ever given the tools to succeed at his profession. Despite all the criticism that Jordan received for not playing his youngsters, he ran a complicated system that necessitated the drafting of players with high basketball IQ who could come in and contribute immediately. Instead, Jordan was supplied with a series of long shot projects and low-IQ players who needed excessive amounts of development on what was at the time a veteran team. How Jordan was supposed to develop Andray Blatche and Nick Young while also keeping the team competitive within his system of play would eventually (along with the injury to Gilbert Arenas) prove his undoing. Bones were thrown to Jordan by supplying him with Antonio Daniels and Darius Songalia, but neither an impact player nor a draftee with a high-IQ pedigree was ever supplied. Instead, "we got buckets, son."
Ownership has changed, but this same lesson has borne out with Saunders. The Wizards brought in a coach with a complex offensive system with the idea that Saunders could take the core of Arenas/Jamison/Butler to the playoffs and make one last run. For a moment, it appeared that the FO had learned its lesson, since by trading for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, they were (in theory) supplying their coach with the weapons needed to run his game plan effectively. Instead, everything turned sour that year with GunGate, and the Big 3 were broken up and shipped off, leaving the Wizards and Saunders with a collection of talent that any generous GM would describe as "middling" to "atrocious."
After that debacle, the front office is left with a choice. Do you continue the course with Flip, or find a coach better tasked for overseeing a rebuild? Once the decision was made to retain Saunders, then one obviously has to draft players that fit his offensive system, the one which he had been successful with throughout his NBA tenure. Comprised of a system that relies (once again) on players with high basketball IQ, the ability to run a half court offense and shoot jumpshots, the front office must have understood what tools were needed to construct a successful rebuild under the tenure of Saunders.
Instead, the front office had to have its cake and eat it too. Instead of providing Saunders with the tools he needed to succeed with his system, they instead continued to draft the high-upside, long developing players which have long been a hallmark of the current regime. Those players with high basketball IQ who who were drafted and could contribute right away were square pegs for Saunders' round system: hustle players who struggle to put the ball in the ocean from beyond five feet. (See Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton). Therefore, we were left instead with a coach whose entire system of offense is predicated on the jumpshot attempting to win with almost no players on the roster that could shoot.
I'm sure that many will point to the fact that this was a failure on Saunders' part and that a better coach would would have created a slightly palatable lemonade out of the lemons he was given. I get that. But I also am turning my eyes to a front office that continues to draft players that fail to fit the standards of the coaches' system. This status quo has carried over from the Pollins to Ted Leonsis.
Godspeed Flip. I hope your next stop provides you with shooters a'plenty.