Wizards introduce Saunders as head coach

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Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld on Thursday introduced Flip Saunders as the next head coach of the franchise, entrusting him with the task of restoring the Wizards to the ranks of contenders in the Eastern Conference and NBA.

“This is an exciting day for us,” Grunfeld said at a press conference at the Verizon Center. “We identified Flip as a top priority. We wanted someone with credibility, with an NBA background, with experience, a winner, not only in the regular season but also in the playoffs. Flip has been in the conference finals in four of the last five years he’s been in the NBA, and obviously we want to get to that.”

In landing Saunders, who reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million, Washington snatched up what was widely considered the top coaching candidate on the market.

Saunders, a 13-year veteran, boasts a 587-396 career record and has guided his two previous teams, Minnesota and Detroit, to four conference-finals appearances. His teams have reached the playoffs in all but two of his seasons, and he owns a 47-51 postseason record.

Saunders’ stay in Detroit ended last season after three straight conference-finals appearances ended in disappointment, and he spent the past year on the sidelines.

Saunders said that time away gave him a greater appreciation for the game and also “further entrenched in my mind that my philosophies are true.”

Saunders will inherit a Wizards team that this season, after making four straight playoff appearances, was riddled with injuries, playing much of the season with three starters sidelined by injuries. Washington, whose two biggest holes were at point guard with Gilbert Arenas rehabbing from knee surgery and center with Brendan Haywood recovering from wrist surgery, posted a 19-63 record, a mark that tied them for worst in franchise history.

But the Wizards and Saunders were clear in their intentions to correct those losing ways beginning next season.

“I look forward to the opportunity. Mr. Pollin didn’t put any pressure on me when we met, he said, ‘Just don’t let us down,’” Saunders said. “This is a unique situation right here. Last year, coming off of a rough year, but when I looked at the situation, there are things here more than anything is the commitment of Mr. Pollin to want to win a championship, the commitment of Ernie to do whatever it takes and the quality of the team itself… . I look at the opportunity to coach this team, and I get excited.”

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