Elfin's End Zone: Flip Saunders Gone, Others Should Follow Soon

2:36 PM, Jan 24, 2012   |    comments
Flip Saunders reacts during a game against the Denver Nuggets (Brad Mills/US PRESSWIRE)
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WASHINGTON (ELFIN'S END ZONE) -- Coach Flip Saunders got fired today by the Wizards, but he's still one of the more fortunate people in Washington sports. Not only does Saunders get paid through the end of next season, but he has been extricated from the misery that is the 2-15 Wizards.

Washington, which was a miserable 23-59 last season as it began to rebuild around No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall, is threatening to break the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers' record for the lowest winning percentage in NBA history.

And now the 56-year-old Saunders, a nice man and a proven coach, no longer has to be part of this mess. He guided the Timberwolves to the playoffs in seven of his eight full seasons in Minnesota before leading the Detroit Pistons to the Eastern Conference finals three years running.

Saunders arrived in Washington in 2009, inheriting a team still built around All-Star veterans Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler but which had crashed and burned the year before after making the playoffs the three previous seasons.
During Saunders' first season, Arenas and fellow guard Jarvis Crittenton drew guns on each other in the locker room on Christmas Eve. If the season wasn't over already, it was after that low point. The Wizards, then 10-17, went 16-39 the rest of the way. Jamison and Butler were soon dealt away in salary-friendly moves. Arenas followed them out the door during last season.

So now after enduring the lockout which shaved 16 games off the schedule and pushed the season's start back by two months, the Wizards are all finally officially on notice that everyone's job is in jeopardy from general manager Ernie Grunfeld on down to the equipment staff. Well, maybe not the latter. Only Redskins owner Dan Snyder would stretch his axe quite so far down the totem pole.

And that's as it should be. Guard Nick "Pass Me The Ball" Young and forward Andray "Lapdance Tuesday" Blatche are the only holdovers from the 2008 playoff team, but they and center JaVale "Watch This Dunk" McGee have done enough to add to the knucklehead culture of losing that has enveloped this franchise so that they need to be sent packing for whatever they might bring in return.

Grunfeld made more than his share of smart moves during his GM tenures with the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks and the Wizards, for whom he began working in June 2003, but three straight ugly seasons have poisoned his legacy.

Second-year owner Ted Leonsis needs to assert control of the Wizards as he did when his Capitals went south in 2003-04 as stars Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar and Robert Lang were all traded. While this season is already lost, the sooner Leonsis cleans house the better.

Saunders' head should only be the first to roll. Grunfeld's should follow. Then the new GM and coach, who ever they might be, need to find a bunch of unselfish players who'll constantly hustle like second-year forward Trevor Booker, but with more ability.
That's easier said than done, but as the cliché goes, the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that it exists. Saunders' dismissal has started the process.

WUSA-9's Sports Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."

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