Wizards reach deal with Saunders

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Flip Saunders has reached a verbal agreement on a four-year, $18 million contract to become coach of the Washington Wizards, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Monday.

While terms have been agreed upon, sources says, the deal won’t be finalized until Saunders returns a signed contract to Washington. Nevertheless, the two sides have completed most of the negotiations.

Saunders was telling associates on Monday that he is accepting the job, and team officials are planning to introduce him at a news conference early next week.

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld and assistant GM Tommy Sheppard have been courting Saunders for several months, and sources say that the framework of an agreement has been in place since the All-Star break. They wanted badly for a veteran coach to take over the Wizards, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 19-61. Nevertheless, the return of Gilbert Arenas to rejoin Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison – coupled with the possibility of the No. 1 overall pick in June's draft – makes the Wizards an attractive job. If Arenas can return to past form, the Wizards should make a swift return to the playoffs next year.

In his 13 seasons as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, Saunders won 50 games seven times and advanced four times to the conference finals. After taking the Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference finals, Saunders was fired at the end of last season. He has a career record of 587-396 (.597).

Saunders will replace interim coach Ed Tapscott, who is expected to return to the Wizards' front office. Former Washington coach Eddie Jordan, who was fired in December, has emerged as the top candidate with the Sacramento Kings.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Saunders plans to hire veteran NBA guard Sam Cassell as an assistant coach.