When Wizards coach Flip Saunders looks across the court at Thunder coach Scott Brooks, he hopes to see what his team could like in a couple of years.
The Thunder are now a playoff team battling for a division title and home court in the playoffs, but not too long ago, they were a losing squad with a lot of young players who were still trying to figure it out. During their inaugural season in Oklahoma City, in 2008-09, the team went 23-59. Last season, they finished at 50-32, losing in the playoffs to the eventual champions L.A. Lakers.
“When you sign up to be an NBA player, you’re an NBA player. Experience does help, there’s no doubt. You get it one day at a time, one game at a time, but you have to understand that there’s a level that you have to play at, and if it dips below that, they have to be notified. You want your guys to perform at a professional level every night. That’s the job.” Brooks said.
It’s no doubt a similar sentiment to what Saunders has to communicate to his players that despite their youth and inexperience, now is the time for them to show what they’ve got.
With 18 games remaining in the regular season, Saunders, as well as Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis are taking a hard look at what the young players are bringing to the court as they make evaluations for next season. The team is full-scale rebuilding mode, and now is the time for the rookies, and the rest of the squad to show whether they will be part of that rebuild, or find themselves playing elsewhere next season.
“Kevin [Durant] and all of our guys, they work. They work every day. They understand the job at hand; they understand their role on the team, and I make it very simple. Their role is to play as hard as they can and play for their teammates,” Brooks said.
Not too far remover from the same situation as Saunders, Brooks had nothing but praise for the job Saunders is doing with the Wizards.
“Flip does not have an easy job. He stands in front of you and every night he doesn’t feel great about what just happened, but he has to stay positive. He’s a good coach and has a lot of good experience. But you have to work every day and your attitude can’t fluctuate from loss to loss. If it does you’re going to be an emotional wreck,” Brooks said.
The even-keeled Saunders seems to be holding up just fine.
“Washington has some good young players that are probably in the same boat that we were in two or three years ago,” Brooks said.
“You have to find little goals that you can meet and achieve, and work your way towards that.”