DETROIT (AP) -Flip Saunders will be back as coach of the Detroit Pistons next season, an NBA official with knowledge of the team's plans told The Associated Press on Monday night.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Pistons haven't made an announcement about Saunders' future, said bringing the coach back for a third season is part of Detroit's retooling plan.
Though many believe the Pistons could make significant changes this offseason and some have suggested a fourth coach in six years for the franchise, Saunders said he ``absolutely'' expects to return.
``That's never been a question,'' Saunders said Monday in a telephone interview with the AP.
Earlier in the day, the Pistons cleaned out their lockers at the team's practice facility in Auburn Hills and met briefly, two days after Cleveland eliminated them in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
``It's still disappointing to all of us the way the season ended,'' Saunders said. ``We had some success during the process of the season, but we didn't get to our goal of winning a championship.''
Richard Hamilton and Chris Webber were the only no-shows at the gathering that was not mandatory. A message seeking comment was left with Hamilton and an e-mail seeking comment was sent to Webber.
Saunders' future ultimately will be decided by Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who has declined to comment since the season ended Saturday night.
The Pistons have lost in the conference finals as a top-seeded team in two years under Saunders after Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown led them to the NBA title in 2004 and just short of a repeat the next year. Rick Carlisle helped a bad team become good, but was fired after leading Detroit to the 2003 conference finals.
Less than a day after Detroit finalized terms of Brown's $7 million severance package two years ago - with three seasons and about $18 million left on his contract - Saunders was hired with a four-year deal worth up to $26 million.
``We've had two chances these last two years to win a championship, and fell short. Flip got some unwelcome criticism for that,'' point guard Chauncey Billups said. ``I don't think it was all his fault. Players not playing that great, had a lot to do with it. Like I said, could he have made some different decisions and been a little better? Probably so. Could I have? Probably so. Could a lot of other players? Probably so.
``We'll have to see what's going to happen.''
Billups will be one of the NBA's top free agents next month, and he reiterated his desire to continue his career in Detroit.
``My first interest is the Pistons,'' he said. ``I make no ifs, ands or buts about that.''
Backup power forward Antonio McDyess said the Pistons don't necessarily need to revamp their roster, but they do need to change their cocky mind-set that led to them falling short of their goals.
``If we come back with the same mentality, it ain't going to work,'' McDyess said. ``But if we come back with the mentality of being ready to work, ready to win, we'll be OK.''
Reserve guard Flip Murray said he plans to exercise an option to return for a second season and reserve center Dale Davis said he doesn't plan to retire, adding that coming back to Detroit is a possibility if he expects to contribute.

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