- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Flip Saunders is being asked to save the Wizards.

That could be a long-shot proposition if Gilbert Arenas is sentenced to being a pass-happy, step-slow point guard.

That is the first question hanging over Saunders. The second is whether his defensive principles will take with the Wizards.

Not that Saunders is known as a defensive-minded coach. His playbook is said to be as thick as the last celebrated Saunders in these parts. That Saunders did not work out so well. Al’s football tome led to back strain and crossed eyes showing various states of befuddlement, Nick Young’s typical look.

“Lots of people talk about my huge playbook, but about 60 percent of it is devoted to defense,” Saunders said Thursday.

Saunders is a good hire, even the perfect hire, if the Wizards ever become healthy. Saunders is not unlike Eddie Jordan, the first of the two fall guys employed on the team’s sideline last season.

Saunders is even-tempered, gracious and liable to find the sunny but mercurial disposition of Arenas to be a vast improvement over the powder keg known as Rasheed Wallace.

The unveiling of Saunders is the first indication that the 19-63 nightmare has passed.

It will be left to Ernie Grunfeld to make the moves that further the notion this summer.

It would help if the Wizards get Blake Griffin lucky in the lottery, too. Grunfeld has at least two pieces to shop around in Andray Blatche and Young.

Blatche has announced he is ready to work, which should be taken as a warning. His summer workload usually involves the justice system. Blatche has upside, as it is said in the NBA. A change of venue might help him. The Wizards, too.

Young, in his blinders and all, can score in bunches on occasion. The rest of his game is stilted, which comes from his severe case of tunnel vision.

It is hard to imagine Young ever being able to master Saunders’ playbook. It is just too easy to hoist another fadeaway 18-footer.

The personnel before Saunders is not half-bad. It is not half-good either. Its best season under Grunfeld’s stewardship was the 45-win season and first-round elimination of the Bulls in 2005.

The Wizards have been stuck on the “crab dribble” of LeBron James ever since then.

Arenas is making noise that it is time to get serious. You could say it is about time, except you could have said the same thing the first time the Cavaliers eliminated the Wizards from the playoffs, and never mind the second and third times.

“The start of a new beginning,” Grunfeld said of the hire. “He brings credibility and knowledge. And with that, you get respect.”

Saunders has made a habit of taking teams to the conference finals. That precipitated his dismissal from the Pistons and the Allen Iverson experiment.

Some franchises just don’t recognize how good they have it until it is too late.

“Sacrifice,” Saunders said of what he expects from the Wizards. “And you have to be lucky.”

And as we all know too well, luck abandoned this franchise about the time Jeff Ruland broke down.

Asked to assess the Wizards, Saunders said: “It’s very difficult to judge a team without a premier player like Gilbert. And Brendan [Haywood] was out.”

And the Wizards employed a zillion point guards - never a good thing. Two did not survive the first half of the season, and two more will not survive the offseason.

The next critical business before the Wizards arrives May 19, when they learn their fate in the NBA Draft.

“You have anything to help us there?” Grunfeld said, meaning lucky charms.

Until then, Saunders will be attempting to imbue the Wizards with his philosophy, which consists of high assists, low turnovers, the ability to defend and an offense that can push the ball.

“The process starts today,” Saunders said.

It is not a day too early for a team looking to leave nowhere.

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