Less than three years ago, the Washington Wizards were a part of one of the most dramatic playoff series of the past decade.
After years of struggling, the Wizards were starting to get on track. After falling victim to the Miami Heat during a four game sweep in the 2005 conference semifinals, the team had something to prove in 2006.
Unfortunately for them, they were plunged into an unusually media-frenzied first round matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, one that was Lebron James’ first forays into the postseason. After quite a few jabs and bars, both physically and verbally from both teams, the Cavs emerged victorious with a 4-2 series win.
The Wizards continued to falter, losing in the first round to the Cavs for two more consecutive seasons. Furthermore, the team will finish this season with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. The team has fallen from the ranks, and it certainly looks time to “Flip” its fortunes. Flip Saunders, that is.
Reports have surfaced that Saunders has been offered the team’s head coaching job and could be introduced sometime next week.
Other rumored candidates for the job were Rudy Tomjanovich, who is visibly past his prime having to resign because of health issues midseason through his last job with the Lakers in 2004, and Pat Riley, who for several seasons toyed with the idea that he no longer wanted to coach full time before fading back into the Heat front office.
Timing for this hiring could not be more right. Saunders, like the Wizards, has to prove that he also can win in the playoffs. Although he holds an impressive resume, leading his teams to four first place finishes and into the playoffs 11 out of 12 full seasons, he has never escaped the conference finals.
The Wizards may have lost a step this past season, but they are really no team to knock. The team beat its long time rival, Eastern Conference first seed Cavs, for two of its 19 wins this season. Those two wins also accounted for two of the Cavs’ only 15 losses.
The team’s star, three-time “All-NBA” member Gilbert Arenas has been forced out of play for much of the last two seasons with serious injuries.
After the team started the season 1-10, Coach Eddie Jordan was dismissed and replaced on an interim basis by Ed Tapscott.
Tapscott can best be remembered for his role in the Knicks front office as interim President and General Manager in 1999, drafting Frederic Weis ahead of local Ron Artest (that in itself should have immediately sent the sirens blasting). Tapscott has led the Wizards to an 18-63 finish.
Granted the team has been through a turbulent season, Flip Saunders can easily right the ship. Having a steady and proven coach on board will calm the team’s spirits from the get go.
This horrific season will surely produce one positive thing, which is a top three draft pick.
The team could really strike gold and win the lotto, which would enable them to grab top prospect big man Hasheem Thabeet, effectively ending the team’s starting center-by-committee strategy (consisting of Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas),which has proven ineffective thus far, and Thabeet would only add to an already strong team core.
When he isn’t hobbling off the court or writing his blog for NBA.com, Gilbert Arenas is an All-Star, sometimes MVP talent. Caron Butler has also emerged as an All-Star, and Antwan Jamison is one of the more consistent performing forwards in the league. These are all big name players, but the question is, will their colliding egos be a problem?
Not for Saunders, who has experience managing the egos of Stephon Marbury, Kevin Garnett, and Latrell Sprewell, just to name a few. He also has experience in understanding what a real team nucleus can accomplish, having been a part of the dominating Detroit Pistons of recent years.
Putting his experience with both squads together, Saunders will look to bring out the perfect mix out of this Wizards team, which could result in further advancement in the playoffs. That, of course, will be uncharted waters for both Saunders and the Wizards, but the gratifying journey will certainly be worth the wait.