Flip Saunders hasn’t been shy about his belief that the Wizards could only advance beyond their 2009-2011 struggles by purging the roster of its old crew of jolly pranksters. Apparently he also offered that advice to owner Ted Leonsis during his exit interviews, after he had been let go.
Saunders, now an ESPN analyst, was asked by ESPN 980’s Thom Loverro this week whether the Wizards’ current progress is aided by the roster purge over the last 12 months, in which the “knuckleheads” — to use Loverro’s term — were discarded. (Audio here.)
“No question,” Saunders said. “I was a proponent from day one of changing that whole atmosphere. Having been in situations where we had success in both Detroit and in Minnesota, we didn’t have that… When I was there, I made my feelings pretty well known. And actually when I left — and had meetings with Ted Leonsis when I left — I pretty much said the same thing: that the team is not gonna take any type of steps until you clean out some of that knucklehead — like you said — the knucklehead factor and get everyone more on the same page.”
Loverro then asked about the famous incident when Andray Blatche rebelled against Saunders and refused to speak with him during a game, only to play the following game against Indiana.
“This was an organizational decision, not a one-person decision,” Saunders said at the time, just days after saying it was the most disappointed he had ever been in a player.
“Well at some points, as an organization, they make decisions,” Saunders said this week, in response to Loverro’s question. “And at some points you have to abide by decisions that an organization makes. And you might not agree with it, but you go along with it. I believe that the organization has to be on the same page. And what you have to do is you give your opinions on things, and some opinions are taken, and some they don’t. But at the end, when a decision is made, you all live and go through with that decision.”
Saunders was fairly positive toward John Wall, saying he continues to think the guard is a player you can build a team around. But for Wall to lead an elite team, Saunders said, he needs to improve on two things.
“And that’s what he’s been told since the day he was drafted,” Saunders said. “And that was one, his ability to knock down the perimeter shot consistently, and then his ability to guard people. And he should be a good defender, just because he’s got great size and speed. But sometimes his concentration is just not right where it needs to be. And shooting the ball is just something he’s got to continue to work on.”
Before the appearance ended, Kevin Sheehan asked Saunders if the Wizards have the right decision-makers in place to build a contending roster.
“Ted talks a lot about the blueprint he had for hockey that he wanted to carry through for basketball, but I think the biggest thing in his blueprint is he believed that you have to have good people,” Saunders said. “I really believe that that’s what he’s trying to do right now, orders from above on down, let’s make sure we get the right people and the right character into this team. I think that’s the first step in order to [contend]. And whether you can contend or not contend, it comes from the top. There has to be a commitment really from the owner on top.”