Is the New Wizards Assistant Unprofessional?

Some think Don Zierden left his previous team high and dry

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Most Wizards fans probably hadn't heard of Don Zierden before he was hired away from the head coaching job of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx to be part of Flip Saunders' staff on Wednesday.

Soon afterward came the "of course" moment after finding out that Zierden was under Saunders with both the Timberwolves and the Pistons, along with the La Crosse Catbirds of the (former, thanks to Isiah Thomas) CBA and the University of Tulsa. The NBA operates under the "buddy system" evidenced by the basketball career of Eddie Jordan.

But many eyebrows were raised around the world of women's professional basketball after Zierden took his WNBA team through practice and then subsequently quit to head to D.C., mere days before the start of the season, without immediately talking to Minnesota media about the departure, nor attending the press conference to introduce his successor, Jennifer Gillom, who steps in as the league's only black woman coach.

Women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel went so far as to call out Zierden for being unprofessional on her blog. Zierden's departure from his home state of Minnesota certainly seemed to raise a bit of suspicion when UConn women's basketball beat writer John Altavilla blogged that Zierden's contract negotiations with the Wizards had hit a "snag."

So what gives? Saunders was named coach of the Wizards back on April 22 with many, such as former Wiz beat reporter Ivan Carter, announcing that Flip would be the coach in early March, much less even earlier speculation. It was certainly enough time to get ducks in a row in order to make Zierden's departure from the Lynx more "timely" -- at least according to WNBA fans.

After speaking with Zierden, among others, Vopel followed up with a post on her blog indicating that Zierden's decision to leave Minnesota was a tough one and actually made 10 days beforehand (and probably discussed much earlier in advance). Not only is Zierden leaving his family behind in Minnesota, but he's been previously quoted saying that he did not miss the rigorous NBA travel schedule that kept him away from his loved ones.

But alas, money and security are driving factors, the NBA presumably being better. No one can blame Zierden for taking an NBA gig. The WNBA is simply not a stable league, especially in Minnesota where the Lynx fall on the low side of league attendance averages.

In the end, Zierden simply could not pass up an opportunity to coach a promising team with his friend. Sure the timing was bad, but most similar cases can be chalked up to unavoidable as opposed to unprofessional. Besides, as we are constantly reminded across the realm of professional sports, it is a business, and such occurrences are inevitable.

Kyle Weidie is a D.C. resident who writes Truth About It and contributes to Bullets Forever, both Washington Wizards blogs.

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