When I arrived at the Verizon Center today the entire basement was undergoing a major renovation. All the carpet was being ripped up throughout the floor, forcing the media to cluster in the far corner of the normally spacious press room. Everything was being repainted and there was plaster and mortar everywhere. In short, it was a full scale rehaul.
Which might be what Flip Saunders is attempting to do with this team.
Five minutes after the media was let onto the main court for practice, Flip Saunders walked off the court and canceled practice due to the lack of effort and the barking that was taking place over disputed calls. A second practice was rescheduled for 4PM with no media availabiility.
Just how bad was the practice? From what I witnessed there was a lot of sloppy play and the players were just going through the motions. However, it might be better to have Josh Howard's perspective on the matter. Was it the worst practice the Wizards have held?
Josh Howard on practice:
As far as focus, yeah. I got out there today and I could feel the intensity level go up when I was out there. But when I came out it was like guys forgot the game. It's tough to watch that......1-4, I've been in situations where I've started out 0-5 and made it to the Finals. It's a correctable mistake. Guys need to go out there and sell it to one another.
As the players slowly filed off the court Hilton Armstrong gathered the troops and insisted that they come back for the second practice with the necessary sense of urgency and effort.
On what made Hilton pull everyone in after practice:
Uh (long pause), there was no reason really, I just know we needed it. Everyone just walked off the court. It just seemed to easy for me personally. Nobody said anything, so I just felt that that somebody needed to say something. Pretty sure that everyone was thinking it, but just to hear it come from somebody else's mouth maybe different, maybe spark something for everyone to pick it up so this won't happen again.
What followed next was a scene of confusion, as players milled around deciding whether to go home and rest before the next practice or stick around in the area. As they filed past the media, each player has something to say (always joking) about how they were being brought back to the court. The most vocal of the players was Andray Blatche, who insisted on the need for two a days in November. Blatche, who was not scheduled to talk to the press, took it upon himself to be the first to step up in front of the assembled media corps and talk about the events that transpired. It should be noted that Nick Young walked out with Blatche, and when Blatche stepped in front of the camera and said "I want to talk," Nick Young states behind him, "Oh, I got a lot to talk about."
Patience is running out. People are getting frustrated. I got no problem with it. Two a day. Training camp in November. It's cool by me. We need it. We losing, so that's what happens when you're losing. You gotta put extra time in.
What sent Flip over the edge:
I think it was not as much as guys not giving there all as much as it was guys complaining. A lot of guys were complaining about the calls, so it turned the game into a whole bunch of talking instead of playing.
On importance on correcting mistakes:
We got come back (to the court) and begin communicating offensively and defensively rather than talking to the coaches about the calls. We got to fight. We're 1-4.
Now I'm not familiar with the general tone and scheme of NBA practices, but it seemed rather unusual that Flip would go to the extreme of walking off the court without saying anything and canceling practice. It turns out that I was not alone in that thought, as players were asked repeatedly throughout the interview sessions as to whether this type of disciplinary action has ever occurred before:
I been here six years. This is the first time. The first time. But...it's part of it. I talk about everyone being patient with us because it's a young team. But we have a losing record. Patience is running out and people are trying to send a message to us that we need to step it up.
Nah. Never. In college, yeah. In NBA, can't say that I have. I haven't seen a coach call it off and then have a coach reschedule it again for two to three hours later....It's a first for me.
This is the first time that, I can't even say me, but the team has been kicked out of practice. It's a first and hopefully we get a good response this afternoon....It's new to me and I just hope that guys respond to it directly.
Flip was the last to come out and address the situation that transpired today. I should be noted that Saunders was positively upbeat when he approached the media and talked about canceling practice:
On what Flip observed during practice:
We didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish. After you lose a couple of games you hope to come in with a sense of urgency. I was excited about coming here, I actually got here at 7AM getting ready for practice...we didn't come with that same urgency as a team. We're not going to beg guys to play hard. If they don't want to play hard we'll come back in at another time and we'll get people in who do play hard. That's the one thing as coaches, you can't coach effort. So we'll find guys that will do it and do it in the right environment.
On the frustration with recent play:
You've lost games that are winnable. You're in a situation as a team where over the last three or four games where you have been outrebounded by 12 and you're averaging 20 turnovers a game, you think you would come into a practice, especially as a young team, you would come in with a sense of urgency, to come in to learn, to be very detail oriented, to get in, get out....and get better. We didn't have that right frame of mind. We had a couple guys....Kirk, and Al, and Cartier...those three in particular gave really good effort....as a whole there were some guys who were in-between, but there were some who didn't do what we needed to do. So we'll come back and we'll do it at 4PM.
On whether he has canceled practice before:
Yeah, I've done it before. You have to go with the idea that you have to get better, and you don't want to take a step back, especially with a young team. So it usually happens once or twice a year....never this early. I have nothing else to do, so we can come back at 8.
At 1-4 the frustration is obviously boiling over with this team. The good news is that the players are obviously not ready to pack it in for the year yet, and seem willing to redouble their efforts at practice this evening. As a motivational ploy, this move is a double edged sword because it has the chance to invigorate the team, or blow up in face of the coaching staff. We shall see on Wednesday.
- A separate thread of questioning was that Andray Blatche and the other bigs held an impromptu meeting to discuss their play as of late, as it was called out recently by an unnamed member of the Knicks coaching staff. This meeting was addressed by all the players (with the exception of Howard) who were interviewed today, and I'll have another post up tonight which addresses this situation. Flip addressed it as well, and had some especially harsh things to say about recent play in the post.
- For all you Wall/Arenas watchers, they walked out of the Verizon Center together. So we can probably put that media driven issue to rest.