So I know I am a couple of weeks late on this as Grunfeld was extended by the Wizards 2 weeks ago but Robbie had his say on the matter and how much he disliked the move and I am in the same boat as Rob, just not quite as passionate about it. From what I understand Leonsis has given Grunfeld a 2 year extension so he will at least be around through the 2013/2014 season and basically will be in charge of this new era of Wizards basketball. Let me first give you a quick overview of Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure thus far with the Wizards and why a lot of people are questioning his return.
Grunfeld was signed by the Wizards in 2003 and since he took over we have won a total of 1 playoff series. So basically in the 9 years that Grunfeld has been here we have one playoff series win and have never even sniffed the conference finals. In addition we have reached the playoffs a total of 4 times throughout his regime, yet we got knocked out all of those years except for 04-05 when we came back to beat the Bulls in 6. So that is the bottom line: 1 playoff series win in 9 years but here is how he got there.
In my mind Grunfled has been responsible for two different era’s and both of them failed. The first one was when he took over he attempted to make the fierce trio of Arenas, Jamison, and Butler the guys to bring us to the promise land. As I stated before this team landed us 4 playoff berths and 1 playoff series win so while it can’t be counted as a terrible failure, the goal is to win championships and at the very least be contenders. The Wizards accomplished neither in their stint with this duo.
So after Grunfeld realized that these guys wouldn’t be able to be enough to make the Wizards contenders, a few years ago he blew up the team and started a new regime. He traded away Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Antwan Jamison and pretty much cleared the books of everything other than Arenas’s contract (albeit huge) and gave the Wiz enough flexibility to start anew. Wizards fans are very aware of this new era as it actually just ended and consisted of JaVale McGee, Nick Young, and Andray Blatche as they were supposed to be the “new three” if you will who would grow together and bring the Wiz to the promise land! Well as all Wizards fans know by now, this plan failed miserably as none of those players ever developed into the guys that Wizards brass thought they could be and their attitude towards the game made the Wizards the laughing stock of the league. Fast forward to this year now and Grunfeld has done the same basic thing that he did with the first threesome that he tried to put together and that is get rid of them and basically start a new with a new regime of players. He traded McGee and Young and most likely will amnesty Blatche in the somewhat near future. Now the real John Wall era is set to begin.
There is no denying that Grunfeld has not done well as the Wizards general manager as like I said we have only won one playoff series in 9 years, that is pretty bad. The main problem that I have seen with Grunfeld is ability to evaluate talent and put together what he believes is a championship caliber team (obviously a must for a good GM). First he thought that the trio of Jamison/Arenas/Butler could get us a ship. Not really that close and we wasted 5 years trying. Then he thought that Young/Blatche/McGee could get us a ship. Laughably wrong and we wasted 3 years on that. So now we are basically back to where we were 9 years ago and have no hardware and only 1 playoff win to show for it.
There is one thing that I would say Grunfeld is good at though and that is starting anew after his failures. After his first failure with Gil/Jamison/Butler he was able to trade away Butler and Jamison and trade Gilbert and his contract for a slightly better contract in Rashard Lewis who will likely be gone after this year. Even with Gil/Lewis’s horrible contract we still had enough cap space to form a decent team, unfortunately the new players we invested in were worse than the first bunch and things just got worse. But at least Ernie was able to rid of us the old regime and allowed us to start a new one even if we was just going to fail again.
Most people probably know this because it happened so recently but this was the year that Grunfeld realized that his 2nd era of Wizards basketball was a failure as he traded away Young and McGee and is on his way to amnestying Blatche. So while we did waste three years with these guys and have nothing to show for it, at least he was able to rid them from us so we have a possibility at a good future. It may sound stupid that I am giving him props for cleaning up his own messes but there are some general managers who can’t even do that (see Isiah Thomas and MJ), so I definitely think that it was worth talking.
Other than Ernie’s just lack of ability to evaluate players correctly and determine what it takes personnel wise for a team to win a championship, I think that the Wizards other problem during his tenure is that they were merely average for the first 5 years of his run. Common sense tells you that it is better to be average than bad right? Unfortunately in the NBA that is no true and here is the logic behind it. The goal of any NBA team is/should be to win championships. So in that sense losing in the 1st round of the playoffs is really the same as being the 2nd worst team in the league because you didn’t reach your goal. Would most fans rather have their teams lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs then be the worst team in the league? Sure. Is your season in reality considered an utter failure if you lose in the NBA finals? No (unless you are the Miami Heat). My point is though that in the NBA you either want to be a contender now (top 5 or 6 team) or rebuilding to be a contender in a few years (bottom 7 or 8 team). Anything in the middle is pretty useless because you don’t have a shot at winning a title now and you are mortgaging the next 5 years of your franchise for a team that has no chance of winning a championship. Obviously there are some teams who are the exceptions like the Thunder a couple of years ago when they were probably just top 10/12 and they had already gone through being terrible and were building up to being good and that was just the phase that they were in a the time and hopefully the Wiz will be in that phase next year or the year after.
Unfortunately for the Wiz in the Gil/Butler/Jamison era, they were not in that phase. They were in the group of guys who were decent but they were probably a top 10-12 team each year but never had a legitimate shot to win the title. So not only were we not giving ourselves a shot to win the title those years, we were also hurting ourselves down the line as we were getting worse draft picks because of it (For those following the NBA right now, I would say a great example of the Wizards 5 years ago is the Hawks today. Not real contenders now and getting low draft picks that don’t have a high chance of being as productive for you in the future). That is exactly how the last 5 years has played out for the Wizards as they were so average for so long, they got so many mid round draft picks and after they formed their original team off of trades and free agents they changed up and tried to build this nucleus around the draft. Unfortunately like I said they were average and go mid round picks so they ended up building this latest team around Nick Young (16th pick), JaVale McGee (18th pick), Andray Blatche (35th pick). While all of these guys are certainly talented and could have (and still can) be good NBA players there is a reason why so many teams passed on these particular guys and that was their attitude and style of play. None of these guys took the game as seriously as they should and had way too much of a me first attitude. This ended up being the undoing of the Wiz over the last few years as none of these guys panned out for us and it was a direct correlation to us being average with Grunfelds first team.
One reason why I have so much optimism for the future is because we were so horribly bad over these last few years that we picked up high draft picks. While I am not sold on Vesley yet, Wall should be very good and we should get a top 5 pick who has a high chance of being a good player for us for years to come. These guys come cheap and then we are able to spend the extra money that we have because of this on higher priced veterans like Nene who are very good. In the next couple of years we should add at least one very high draft choice and have a ton of cap room to spend on at least 2 good to very good players. It is pretty clear that it is better for a team’s future to be very bad rather than average.
While I certainly don’t endorse Leonsis resigning Grunfeld, I can see why he did it to a point. Remember that Leonsis only became owner of this team less than 2 years ago when we were in the middle of this latest Grunfeld failure. Since Leonsis has come aboard Ernie has been able to trade away Arenas, Young, and McGee and has basically been able to (like I outlined before) clean us up from his latest mess and put us in a position for a solid future. I am know that over the last year Leonsis has preached building through the draft and cap space and that is exactly what Grunfeld has gotten him in the 2 years that Ted has been the owner. Grunfeld also was able to acquire Nene in the deal for McGee. This is crucial because Leonsis believes that right now with the bad team that we have, it will be difficult to bring in high-priced free agents so we will have to trade for them. With the McGee trade we were able to get rid of a player from one of our failure era’s and bring in a very good veteran for the future at the same time, 2 birds with one stone kind of deal. So while Grunfeld has had a very bad run with the Wizards, he has actually been pretty good since Leonsis got here because we are in the stage of cleaning up his mess, which he is actually decent at. I could see how it could be tough to resign a guy who has done everything you have asked since you’ve been here, but I think Leonsis failed to see the bigger picture here and that is Grunfeld’s inability to evaluate players correctly.
All in all I am disappointed that we decided to bring back Grunfeld after 2 failed era’s and 9 overall bad years. While I am not quite as angry about it as my fellow writer Rob, I certainly don’t think he is the best man for the job and with the upcoming draft and all the cap space we have available I fear that he will make the same mistakes that he did in the past. While I don’t think that Grunfeld is at the Isiah Thomas or Michael Jordan level of GM’s because at least he is decent at cleaning up his own mess, I still think that he is a below average general manager that I don’t really trust in the future. I am assuming that the Blatche and Lewis decisions will be more owner related because the are more about the money and basketball wise they are fairly easy choices. That means that for me is first real decision will come draft time when we are guaranteed a top 5 pick, I will be fairly disappointed if we do not get Beal or Kidd-Gilchrist but that is for another post. As for this one in the end I am disappointed that we resigned Grunfeld for another 2 years because that means he will be the architect of this 3rd Wizard era under his watch and all I can hope is that they are nothing like the first two.