Selling hope is all the rage in Washington D.C. these days.
And that’s the one thing the hiring of Flip Saunders gives Wizards fans — hope. Hope of some entertaining basketball worth following past Christmas. Hope of a playoff spot next year and maybe even a little more. Hope of somebody finally taking advantage of the offensive weapons on the Wizards roster (providing they can stay healthy).
There is one key reason the Wizards made a wise hire — Saunders is a brilliant offensive coach. When he took over the Detroit Pistons they were stuck in the 1990s, with a suffocating defense and an ugly offense that was 17th in the league in efficiency (points per possession). The next year they were fourth. He got them making cuts without the ball, more importantly he got them to recognize and exploit mismatches. Exploiting matchup advantages is the lifeblood of NBA coaching.
Saunders will have a huge advantage over the always-doomed interim coach Ed Tapscott — a blogless Gilbert Arenas who will play more than two games next season. Gilbert for another 80 or so games may have been enough to get the Wizards into the postseason this year. Throw in Brandon Haywood playing more than six games next year and you have instant improvement.
Based on Sanders’ track record, you can’t count on too much beyond getting into the playoffs, though. Yes, he got the Pistons to three straight Conference Finals but a very talented team never got past that hump (like Larry Brown was able to do). And each year Detroit’s defense got worse and worse until LeBron James could beat them single-handedly. His teams in Minnesota were never defensive powerhouses either (although, you could fairly blame all the issues in Minny on having Kevin McHale as a general manager).
But before the Wizards can run in the postseason, they need to walk again. They need to become a winning team that can strike some fear in an opponent. One that takes advantage of an impressive offensive arsenal. Saunders will do that, he will make this team good. Get there first and then worry about how to become great.
That alone is reason for hope in the nation’s capital.
Kurt Helin's crossover dribble was good enough to land him a desk job, from where he started Forum Blue & Gold.