Pistons introduce new coach
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Patience paid off for Flip Saunders.
After being fired in February by Minnesota, Saunders took some time to assess different job possibilities. When the Detroit Pistons finalized a $7 million severance package with Larry Brown earlier this week, Saunders knew he'd found the opportunity he'd been waiting for.
"I was really fortunate in the past five months to wait and evaluate situations," Saunders said when he was introduced as Detroit's new coach Thursday. "I was going to wait and get into the right situation to walk into and have an opportunity to win and to win big, and that's what we have here."
Less than 24 hours after Brown's departure, Saunders and the Pistons agreed to a four-year, $20 million contract with incentives that could add more than $6 million. But with his new opportunity comes high expectations. Saunders is replacing a Hall of Famer and taking over a team that has made two straight appearances in the NBA Finals.
"I've been in situations where I've taken bad teams and moved them in the right direction. In those situations, there is no pressure," Saunders said. "Would it have been easy for me to take another job and not have as much [pressure]? Pressure is what you put on yourself. I don't really feel any pressure walking into a situation."
Saunders compiled a record of 411-326 in 9½ seasons with Minnesota and helped turn one of the NBA's most lackluster franchises into a contender. He led the Timberwolves to eight straight postseason appearances -- and seven first-round exits before a breakthrough to the Western Conference finals two years ago.
Last season, the Timberwolves struggled over the first three months of the season under Saunders and ended up missing the playoffs under interim coach Kevin McHale.
The Pistons don't have a big-time scorer on their roster like Saunders had with Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, but the cupboard is far from bare.
Detroit expects to return the same starting lineup -- guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, forwards Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince and center Ben Wallace -- that won the 2004 title and came within a game of a second straight crown last month.
"When you have a team like we have right now, it's very important the person that you're handing the team over to is qualified and is going to have your respect from day one," said Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations. "I'm very comfortable, Mr. D [owner William Davidson] is very comfortable, we're all very, very comfortable handing the keys to this team over to Flip. We know he's up for the challenge."
Saunders will be asked to maintain the production of the starting five while developing younger players like guards Carlos Arroyo and Carlos Delfino and post player Darko Milicic, the No. 2 overall pick in 2003 who failed to make great strides under Brown.
Saunders said he feels qualified to work with younger players, considering his background as a coach at the junior college and college levels and in the CBA.
"I think the number one thing with young players, you got to get them to play hard," Saunders said. "When you step on the court, they don't check your paycheck to see how much you make, and they don't check your ID to see how old you are."
Saunders said he spoke with Billups -- a former Minnesota player -- for 45 minutes about the situation in Detroit.
"Chauncey is a player I respect. He's a big-game player," Saunders said.
Saunders was a candidate in recent weeks for vacant NBA coaching jobs in New York, Cleveland and Milwaukee, but he waited for the Pistons job to open up.
There were financial factors that allowed Saunders to be patient -- namely the Timberwolves' obligation to pay him more than $5 million for the upcoming season. His deal with Detroit will be worth four times that amount at a minimum, with incentives that could add more than $6 million.
The Pistons also had an interest in former Seattle coach Nate McMillan, who decided not to wait out the proceedings between Brown and the Pistons and chose instead to take the head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Brown, meanwhile, has spoken with Knicks president Isiah Thomas as the first step in New York's courtship of the 64-year-old coach. Brown's agent, Joe Glass, said he expected his client to choose his next career move in a couple of weeks.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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