WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders looks on from the sideline during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Verizon Center on March 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Former Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders has been stepping out recently to talk about the now-official promotion of good buddy Randy Wittman to the job Saunders once occupied. Saunders has been effusive in his praise for Wittman, discussing several times that he is happy for his former lead assistant.
However, Saunders has also been very vocal about wishing he had the chance to get the kind of roster Wittman inherited following the trade-deadline deals of Nick Young and JaVale McGee. First, NBA.com's Steve Aschburner wrote that Saunders saw that "red flag" with Young, McGee and Andray Blatche and wanted it to be rectified. Then, Michael Lee of the Washington Post quoted Saunders in much more detail saying he wished the team traded those three sooner.
I honestly don't like this one bit, though for two different reasons. For one, I'm not all that wild on Saunders' revisionist history here. Perhaps Saunders did raise a red flag, but he also trotted out Blatche for 35 minutes a night, praising him and speaking about him like he was a core piece throughout his tenure. Meanwhile, he was less positive towards McGee and Young, and in McGee's case especially, that caused him to tune out Saunders' message. However Saunders tried to make it work, it failed, and it doesn't sit all that well with me that he's trying to deflect some blame a few months later.
Saunders said he suggested in the past that the Wizards needed to make similar moves while he was still around. "We always talked," he said. "I think it was one of those things where everybody kind of knew, but you’re always intrigued by the talent of players, so what you want to do, you want to exhaust everything you can to see if you can make it work. We kept on trying to work. I think at that time, they thought that the coaching change was going to help make it work."
But the far more concerning thing is that, despite Saunders' timing, he appears to have been more clairvoyant than the general manager that is still in charge. It is true that Ernie Grunfeld at least got some value for McGee by acquiring Nene, but he got nothing for Young and will very likely get nothing for Blatche. He clearly made a miscalculation thinking that those three players would be salvaged in this environment. Now, he's still in charge, and you'd hope that he learned from his mistakes instead of thinking he did a good job getting them off the team when he did. By not listening to his coach, Grunfeld probably let things get too far.
Let's all hope that we don't see similar mistakes going forward.