The scenery and roster will be different, but the task for Flip Saunders will be the same: Get his veteran players to like him -- or if not like him, at least play for him.
This is just my opinion, but I think Saunders was the right choice for the Washington Wizards. Unlike Detroit, where he was prematurely canned amid a locker-room revolt, Washington has a stable locker room and a core of veterans eager to reach their potential. With Saunders in charge, the message is clear: The Wizards' future is on the players.
Saunders won't have an erratic Rasheed Wallace to contend with in D.C. But he will have an even more talented, in some ways even more enigmatic star he must rein in. Everything revolves around Gilbert Arenas, and now everything revolves around Saunders' ability to get the most out of him.
It won't be easy, but I think Saunders has a fighting chance.
The Wizards' approach to seeking a permanent replacement for interim coach Ed Tapscott was clear. Though they have young players like JaVale McGee who need nurturing, the Wizards are going nowhere without their veteran core of Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison responding to the new coach. Most of it is on Arenas, because it is always on the superstar in the NBA. The Wizards' front office was adamant that a strong-willed, playoff-tested, experienced coach was needed to coax this roster back to the postseason. Saunders, with his impressive playoff resume, fits that description perfectly.
But what does he do with Gilbert? Is Arenas committed to returning to his previous status as one of the most dangerous and determined scorers in the league? Or has the $111 million the Wizards bestowed on him before last season stolen his edge? By focusing on Saunders, the Wizards sent a powerful message that they believe the former is true. The fact that Arenas agreed to take less than the maximum extension is all the proof the Wizards' brass needed.
According to a person close to Arenas, he is determined not to go down as the guy who got the $100-plus million extension and never won anything. He is on board, and when his health returns -- presumably next season -- Arenas will be more focused on being No. 0 than Agent Zero. For Saunders, this kind of challenge comes with the territory. So does hoping that his superstar will play like one.