Earlier today Eddie sent me the worst tweet I have ever received. I am absolutely devastated. It has made conjuring up willpower to write this post almost impossible. As a Wizards fan I have never felt more defeated. His tweet…
Ughhhhhhhhh. What? Seriously? I don’t know if I’m more upset by this news or the realization that I have chosen the wrong career path. There is no career you could choose that provides the number of chances Grunfeld has received despite continuous failure. At the height of his tenure as the Wizards head decision maker his performance would have best been described at mediocre. That was at his height, for the most part his results have been far below average. He is a horrendous evaluator of player talent and production, he has a history of grand delusion when assessing his decisions, and as a result his teams tend to lose many, many games.
Mr. Grunfeld has been the Wizards head honcho for nearly a decade now which produced enough information that he can be reasonably evaluated on. Hoopshype.com has been kind enough to document his underwhelming resume, let’s summarize:
He was hired as the Washington Wizards president of basketball operations on June 30th, 2003. He is about to complete his 9th season in that position. In sports your success is measured by games won. In those nine seasons his teams have won 282 of 720 games for a winning percentage of 39.2%. A 39.2% success rate is universally considered very poor. If it was a letter grade it would constitute an E minus.
But it wasn’t always that bad. In 2004-05, his second season, the Wizards were 45 – 37, the most wins the team had had since 1978-79. They lost in the Eastern conference second round to the Miami Heat. The Wizards organization was not used to even this level of success, things were kind of exciting. The team was at least interesting.
Unfortunately, this represents the peak of Grunfeld’s tenure. The Wizards would follow that season with three straight seasons failing to top or even match 45 wins, losing in the playoffs first round each time. In the summer of 2008, Ernie had four seasons worth of evidence his team was just a consistently average team. The team wasn’t progressing, in fact it was gradually getting older and getting worse. Many players contracts were up and it should have seemed like a prime time to go begin a new direction.
That would have been the sensible decision. However, that is not the direction Ernie Grunfeld wanted to go. In the summer of 2008, he felt the Wizards were close, they were on the brink of title contention. Despite playing in only thirteen games the year before and coming off a serious knee injury, Grunfeld signed guard Gilbert Arenas to a max contract. With a deep playoff run in mind he hired Flip Saunders as head coach. Despite several consecutive years of the team showing no improvement he made no other significant moves that off-season, besides trading for guard Javaris Crittenton. Little did he know, that decision would have resulted in most presidents being fired. Luckily for him, he’s Ernie Grunfeld, rational decision making does not apply.
During the 2008-09 season it all came crashing down. Gilbert Arenas only played in two games that season. It was pretty obvious that, following his knee surgery, he would never be the player he once was. During his time off Arenas spent time playing card games on the team plane with Javaris Crittenton. After some disagreements involving winnings the two decided to settle their disputes the truly mature way with guns in the team locker room. Grunfeld had drafted a shooting guard the season before who hopefully would have been able to fill in for Arenas. Unfortunately, like many draft picks of the Grunfeld era, Young didn’t know how to play and was not at all productive. The Wizards season became a joke and the team managed only nineteen wins.
The previous summer, it would have been a sensible play to start over. You had four seasons proof of that being the case. Instead Grunfeld doubled down. The summer of 2009 followed the worst season of his tenure. The teams veterans were a year older. The young players were not progressing. Their max player (Arenas) had never been as good as the other max players (Lebron, Wade, Kobe) and now knee surgeries have hurt his production even more. They have a top five pick in the deepest draft in years. If it wasn’t the previous summer, the time is now. The team needs to start over. At this point there is no possible way you can believe the team is just a piece or two away. But that’s what Ernie believes. He trades the fifth pick (Rubio, Steph Curry, Ty Lawson available) for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
This last push for prominence lasted only a half season. The Wizards began the year only 17 – 33. By February, Gilbert Arenas had already been shut down due to his knee issues. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were shipped off to other teams at the trade deadline. They finished with only 26 wins in 2010. In May they landed the top overall choice in the draft and the rights to draft point guard John Wall. Fortune (and a new owner) had finally forced Grunfeld to rebuild.
Fast forward to now and it seems the team is starting to turn the page. They have not been competitive but they have some nice young players. There are only three pieces remaining from the previous several years of failure: Rashard Lewis’s contract, Andray Blatche, and Ernie Grunfeld. This summer the team had the chance to completely start over, beginning with letting Grunfeld go. They chose not to, for continuity’s sake. That’s disappointing. There’s a saying that if you keep doing what you’ve always done you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.
I have little faith in Ernie Grunfeld. Luck got the team to finally begin a rebuild that was at least two seasons too late. As a Wizards fan, my only hope now is if the Wizards win the lottery, again. If they don’t I fear what he will do, given his drafting history (future post).