Losing hurts, and Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders will not hesitate to admit it. It hurts him, his coaching staff, and — he hopes — his players.
“It’s tough,” Saunders during a recent postgame news conference. “Until [the players] get to a point where they really understand, you can say it kills you to lose but until it really kills you … you know …”
For Saunders, the losing makes it tough to go out, and it’s turned him into something of a recluse.
“For me, for three, four weeks, I’ve had a steady diet of Subway, 20 yards from my condo,” Saunders said. “In the Subway and back up to my apartment, because like I said, you don’t feel good about yourself and as a team, that’s how it has to be. It has to really hurt a lot.
“What I feel bad mostly about is home crowds. They’re waiting for us. Our crowds have been great. We’ve got to give them an opportunity from the beginning to get into the game.”
If anyone knows what Saunders is going through, it’s Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, whose Thunder played the Wizards at Verizon Center on Wednesday night. In Saunders, Brooks can see a mirror image of his own coaching life just a couple of years ago.
“Flip is a good coach,” Brooks said. “He’s been a good coach his entire career. It’s not all of a sudden he can’t coach the game. They’re at a process where we were three or four years ago. It takes time. It’s hard to go through.”
Brooks took over the Thunder early in the 2008-09 season, after the team parted ways with P.J. Carlesimo, when the team was 1-12. They finished 23-59 that season. The following two seasons, Oklahoma City won at least 50 games and in 2010-11 made it to the Western Conference finals.
The Thunder also have one of the league’s youngest teams, with an average age of 24.9, compared to the Wizards’ 25.5.
“I’ve never talked to our guys about being young. That’s an easy crutch to fall on,” Brooks said. “You really just have to come in and build the spirit up of your team by working them everyday, showing them examples of what they’ve done and reinforce their work.”
Brooks can relate to Saunders’ ordeal and recalled a time two years ago when the Thunder had a 3-29 record. It’s not a pleasant memory.
“Three years ago, they thought we were going to have the worst record of all time, and I wasn’t sleeping too good,” Brooks said.
But if Brooks could offer advice to Saunders, it would be to keep working and keep fighting.
“You don’t think [the losing is] ever going to end,” he said, “but when it does end, you get to enjoy it and keep working with it and keep getting it better, and that’s where we are.”