An NBA source confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the Washington Wizards have fired Flip Saunders as coach, and are expected to name assistant Randy Wittman as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
The Wizards, who have the NBA’s worst record at 2-15, were coming off another desultory performance Monday, one in which they trailed the 76ers by 30 points at halftime and wound up losing by 20. That has been the norm for Washington much of this season, surrounding occasional performances like last week’s win over Oklahoma City in which the team played with passion and purpose. Only recently had second-year guard John Wall, around whom the Wizards hope to build a contending team, begun playing with much fire. Saunders never was able to get players like Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee to perform consistently.
Saunders was 51-130 in his two-plus seasons in Washington.
Saunders was in the third year of a four-year deal that paid him approximately $4 million per season. He was hired in 2009 after Washington had gone 19-63 the previous season, during which time the Wizards had fired their previous coach, Eddie Jordan.
At the time, Saunders was joining a veteran team that had made the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons around a core group featuring Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. But Arenas’ role in an incident in December of 2009 in which he brought guns into the Wizards’ locker room as part of a confrontation with guard Javaris Crittenton resulted in Arenas being suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern in January of 2010 without pay for the remainder of the season. The Wizards cratered again, going 26-56, and made the decision to blow up the old roster and start anew after winning the Draft lottery in 2010 and selecting Wall with the first overall pick.
Washington traded Arenas in December of 2010 to Orlando in a deal that brought forward Rashard Lewis from the Magic. In early 2010, the Wizards sent Butler and Haywood to Dallas and Jamison to Cleveland. The Wizards quickly got much younger, but Saunders failed to get his team to play hard consistently through last season and the start of this season.
Yahoo! Sports first reported Saunders’ firing.