After a season out of the NBA, Flip Saunders appeared to transition back into coaching with ease, directing the Washington Wizards' summer league squad with enthusiasm this weekend.
Saunders was a spectator last season after being fired by Detroit in 2008 despite getting his team to the Eastern Conference finals three straight seasons. In April, the Wizards signed him to a four-year deal worth $18 million, hoping he can get the team back into the playoffs and among the conference's elite.
Although it was only a summer league practice and none of the Wizards' starting players were on the court, Saunders said he got an adrenaline rush from being out there.
"It's there any time if you consider yourself a teacher and a coach," Saunders said. "For me, whether I'm talking to 12-year-old kids in a basketball camp or if I'm dealing with 24-, 25-year-old men who are trying to get into the NBA, you get into it and do it with enthusiasm because you enjoy doing it."
Earlier this month the Pistons fired Saunders' replacement, Michael Curry, after Detroit went 39-43. While he has no regrets about his time in Detroit, Saunders said he felt some vindication. And it continued a trend: The Minnesota Timberwolves went from perennial contenders to basement dwellers after he was fired during a poor 2004-05 season.
"As a coach, I know I got about as much out of the guys as I could," he said. "There's always a window of opportunity for a team, and sometimes that window of opportunity can change depending on what happens as far as the other teams in the league. For us, unfortunately, in Detroit we ran up against two teams that suddenly went on unbelievable rolls as far as Boston and Miami, who both won championships. So it's not like we got beat by bad teams.
"But I think as far as what happened in the past, as far as when I leave, I've been in two situations, and both situations haven't been real good after I leave. Whether it's because I left or a combination of things, who knows? But I don't think it has anything to do with what's going to happen here."
Summer roster shrinks
The Wizards cut center James Lang, swingmen Ryan Ayers and Dwayne Anderson and forward Diamon Simpson from their summer league team Sunday.
The squad is down to 14 players, and it's possible the Wizards will make two more cuts Monday after their final practice session. Their summer league schedule begins Tuesday against Cleveland in Las Vegas.
The Wizards were without veteran Nick Young (flu-like symptoms) for both of Saturday's practice sessions, but the guard returned Sunday.
He is expected to battle veterans DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Miller and Randy Foye for the starting shooting guard position this season.