John Wall is already on his second coach, only 1¼ seasons into his NBA career. While he understands Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld’s decision to fire Flip Saunders because of the team’s poor play, Wall didn’t sound too thrilled on Wednesday that his first NBA coach is already gone.
“It was probably shock,” Wall said, when asked his immediate reaction to the firing. “But at the same time, it was a tough decision, something that they thought they had to move forward with, him being here two and a half years. It was tough to see him go. I just wish we would’ve played harder, did the right things, and it would be easier for him to stay here, but you’ve got to make the right decisions to move on.”
Wall’s sporadic and, sometimes, uninterested play through the first 17 games of the season was one of the reasons the Wizards decided to make the change. But Wall insisted that he had a decent relationship with Saunders and even reached out to his former coach after hearing the news.
“Me and Flip had no problems,” Wall said as the Wizards prepared to host the Charlotte Bobcats at Verizon Center Wednesday. “He just wanted me to play basketball, but there was just times when I would get frustrated with myself for not playing good, doing things like that. He was just somebody that would always send me a text message or talk to me every day and just say, ‘Keep on working and keep believing in yourself and things will get better.’ I talked to him yesterday and told him the same thing, and he just said, ‘Keep working hard’ and I told him that I was sorry that happened to him.”
Wall understands that he isn’t the first high draft pick to lose a coach so early in his career. His good friend, DeMarcus Cousins, went through a similar situation in Sacramento earlier this year, when the Kings fired Coach Paul Westphal. Wall also spoke to Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant about how he responded to the Thunder firing P.J. Carlesimo during Durant’s second season.
“He just worked hard every day, kept coming in and being a leader,” Wall said of Durant, “and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Wall said he had begun to take that approach prior to Saunders’s dismissal. He is averaging 23.2 points, 7.6 assists and 7.2 rebounds in his past five games, but expressed regret that the players didn’t do enough to keep Saunders employed. “For us not playing hard every night, the record we had, that puts a tough decision on the team to make a change and have a different voice and opinion. But our record speaks for itself. Basically we didn’t go out there and play hard enough for him and do the things we did to keep him around so they thought they had to make a change,” Wall said. “It’s not shocking because it’s a business. It’s tough to see one of your coaches that helped develop you for one year and was your first coach leave, but it’s something that goes on with the business. He had a great career so far, his coaching credentials and all that speak for itself, what he did for the Pistons and the Timberwolves.”
During his introductory news conference, new Coach Randy Wittman said Wall “has to be willing to be coached” if he wants to be a great player in this league. Wall said that shouldn’t be a problem. “I’m willing to be coached at any time. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be. At times, things gets tough. When you’re tired of losing and things like that, you’re not used to losing a lot of games, and coming into what happened last year starting this year off, it was tough to keep playing, but one thing I’ve been doing lately is just saying forget it. You lose some and you win some, but things will get better.”
When asked if he thought the coaching change would make a difference, Wall replied, “Man, that’s what you hope so… The last couple of games we played team basketball, we get to Philly, they always find a way to make us play one-on-one basketball again. When you do that against a team like that, that’s great and well-coached, you end up losing by 30.”
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