Saunders was diagnosed with the condition last August, but according to reports at the time, the cancer was treatable. However, his condition worsened considerably in recent weeks and he was hospitalized since September. In addition, Wolves owner Glen Taylor stated that Saunders would not be able to coach this season given his condition.
Saunders coached 17 years in the NBA including two and a half seasons with the Wizards from 2009-12 where he had a record of 51-130.
Saunders' best years in the NBA were during his first stint with the Timberwolves from 1994-2005 when he led Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff berths and an appearance in the 2004 Western Conference Finals. During that time, he also had a chance to coach a young Kevin Garnett who was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2004.
After Saunders' first stint in Minnesota, he continued his NBA coaching career with the Detroit Pistons from 2005 to 2008. In Detroit, Saunders led the Pistons to three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances.
Though his record in Washington left plenty to be desired, Saunders dealt with unforeseen circumstances, including the infamous GunGate incident of 2009 involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton and the roster blow-up that followed it.
In the following season, he had a chance to work with John Wall during his first one and a half seasons in the NBA. I remember this quote Saunders gave about Wall when he was introduced to the D.C. area media in June 2010.
Point guards are not made; they're delivered from heaven. And I believe [John Wall] was delivered from heaven.
At the time, I knew Wall would be an important building block in the Wizards' rebuild. Okay, everyone knew that. But I didn't want to praise Wall that highly just yet before he actually played an NBA game.
From hindsight, Saunders's quote was right on the money.
Look at what Wall has accomplished over the last two seasons. He made two straight All-Star appearances and was a starter last season. Wall led the Wizards to two consecutive Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances, something that Arenas wasn't able to do when he was in D.C.
But I also feel bad that Saunders never had a full opportunity to actually see the Wizards' rebuild play itself out under his watch. That said, many of Saunders' assistant coaches in Washington, like now-head coach Randy Wittman, Don Zierden, Sam Cassell, and his son Ryan Saunders stayed and were part of the 2013-14 team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
After Saunders' stint in Washington, he spent the 2012-13 NBA season as an ESPN analyst and re-joined the Timberwolves in 2013 as their President of Basketball Operations. In 2014, he named himself their head coach. Before he began his NBA coaching career, Saunders was a head coach in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association.
Our condolences go to Flip Saunders' family and to our fellow Wolves fans over at SB Nation's Canis Hoopus.
Rest in Peace, Coach Saunders.