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
"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
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
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 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.