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News » Saunders thinks Arenas can improve in new system

Saunders thinks Arenas can improve in new system

Saunders thinks Arenas can improve in new systemWASHINGTON (AP) - New Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders knows what he's getting into with Gilbert Arenas.

Saunders knows Arenas has his own ideas about how his talents can best be used.

Saunders knows Arenas is not shy about saying what he thinks.

Saunders knows that a healthy, happy Arenas is one of the keys to transforming the Wizards from a last-place, 19-win team back into a playoff participant, something the coach is sure will happen this season.

And Saunders knows - well, says he knows - that he will have the last word when it comes to any head-butting that might take place with the All-Star point guard, a player Saunders believes is going to be as good as he was before having a series of operations on his left knee.

"He expresses opinions. We're not going to agree a lot. That's part of the process as you go through. But when it comes down to it, you have to understand one thing. When I say we're going to play a certain way, that's the way we're going to play," Saunders said with a laugh Tuesday, "whether you like it or not. He's starting to understand those things."

Saunders is returning to the NBA after a year off, having signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Wizards in April. He took over from interim coach Ed Tapscott, who filled in after Eddie Jordan was fired 11 games into last season.

The Wizards went 19-63, tying the worst mark in franchise history. But Saunders kept speaking Tuesday - a week before training camp opens in Richmond, Va. - about the playoffs.

"I don't think there's any reason we shouldn't be able to compete with the elite teams in the East - or in the league for that matter," said Saunders, who was fired by the Detroit Pistons after the 2007-08 season.

He led the Pistons to more than 50 victories and a berth in the Eastern Conference finals in each of his three seasons there. Before that, Saunders coached the Minnesota Timberwolves for 10 seasons.

In Washington, Saunders is scrapping Jordan's Princeton offense and shifting to a system that will give Arenas more freedom - and more responsibility.

"He's in a totally different situation. He's going to have the ball in his hands 80 percent of the time. He's going to make decisions," Saunders said. "He has a great opportunity to really improve a lot."

From what Saunders has seen lately, Arenas is fully healthy, capable of once again being an explosive player who can approach 30 points a night.

"I don't see any difference as far as the things that he does now that he was doing three years ago, when he was one of the MVP candidates," Saunders said.

They speak on pretty much a daily basis, and there has been some give-and-take already.

Still, Saunders made clear: "I haven't sugarcoated anything with Gilbert."

Arenas played in all of two games last season and only 13 the season before, trying to come back after having knee surgery three times in 1 1/2 years.

The team has other players who have been All-Stars - forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison - and other players returning from injury-shortened seasons - guard DeShawn Stevenson and center Brendan Haywood. There are other issues that must be solved before the regular season: Saunders was noncommittal about who will start at shooting guard; the coach praised his roster's depth but made clear he likes to use an eight- or nine-man rotation.

It seems clear, though, that one player will be the focus of attention.

Not surprisingly, Saunders was asked about Arenas over and over and over again Tuesday.

One reporter wanted to know whether Saunders ever had faced so many questions about a single player.

"Yeah," Saunders replied with a smile. "I did coach Rasheed Wallace."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 22, 2009


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