We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank



It honestly was beautifully bold
Like trying to save an ice cube from the cold
But even if we had been sure enough it’s true we really didn’t know
Even if we knew which way to head but still we probably wouldn’t go

-Modest Mouse, acknowledging the hand Flip Saunders was dealt, probably

Flip is gone. Fired. His contract went through this year and next, but his words stopped reaching the players long ago. Was it his fault? Partially. Was it the players’ fault? Partially? Front office? Partially. Fans? Partially. It doesn’t really matter, though, does it? The end result was the same: a coach couldn’t reach his players, the team was losing, the franchise was stunting its rebuild, the fans weren’t paying for tickets, and someone got fired. You can’t fire a player (well you could amnesty him, but you have to wait until the offseason), so you’ve only got so many options as an organization to shake up your position.

Flip is a good guy, and he was a successful coach for many years in Minnesota and Detroit. But he eventually couldn’t reach those teams, either. To Flip’s credit, he didn’t think he was being brought in to teach a rebuilding squad how to play basketball; he thought he was tasked with giving a group of veterans a boost in their offensive playbook. Then fingagunz-gate happened, the team blew up, Leonsis took over, and the fate of the franchise was put in the hands of John Wall. On paper, not a horrible place to be, but it’s definitely not what he expected.

At the end of the day, firing Flip is a good move for Washington, and it’s a good move for Flip. I usually don’t like to see retread coaches after multiple firings (see, for example, Washington’s new interim coach, Randy Wittman), but I honestly think there’s a place in this league for Flip. He’s got a niche: give him some veterans that need to get over a hump, and he can take care of it. Just don’t pull the rug out from under him and completely overhaul the franchise without giving him an out-clause in his contract.

This is the first of a few sensible moves the Wizards need to make. The next step is firing Ernie Grunfeld. Why fire him instead of letting his contract expire at the end of the season? Because this team needs to rebuild NOW and acquire rebuilding assets NOW, and Grunfeld (and his former boss, the late Abe Pollin) had been bad at managing both personnel and finances. The sooner a new GM is in place that has a vision for rebuilding and clearing the books, the better for Washington. Grunfeld is not that man. He’ll find a place somewhere, but not in Washington.

The next steps involve Leonsis and the rest of the front office finding ways to pair John Wall with complimentary players. Trades need to happen. Picks need to be acquired. Payroll needs to be cut. That has happened in the past few years, but still having large immobile contracts like those of Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis have hampered this process. Leonsis has a process, and it’s a process that has a logic that can be trusted. I’ve posted it previously in the Washington Wizards’ season preview, but having another look at Leonsis’s interview with Hogs Haven on SB Nation is worth your time. After that, a new non-interim, non-Wittman coach needs to be hired. I’m not going to speculate with who I’d like to see running the show, because I personally think it’s poor form to covet other teams’ coaches while they’re still around. I hear Larry Brown is in the area, though, and while he also has a reputation for “losing” his teams in the long-run, his hard-ass attitude and boot camp mentality is probably what the Wizards need in the short term. They need someone who can teach them how to play defense, and they need someone who has a louder mouth and a bigger ego than they do. Brown fits that mold. They’ll eventually need a coach who is more comfortable with playing younger guys big minutes (but when your roster is all young guys, what choice do you have?), and they’ll need someone who wants to encourage John Wall and the rest of the team to RUNRUNRUNRUN. Maybe Brown can interim instead of Wittman. I have no idea if that’s possible or if anyone in the organization or if Brown wants that. It’s just a thought.

It’s a slow process, rebuilding is, but it’s one that has really finally just now begun.

Amin Vafa

Amin grew up in Cleveland, lives in DC, and somehow still manages to love watching professional basketball.