In the State of the Union spirit, I have decided to delve into the Washington Wizards and give a State of the Wizards. While it may be less important that what the President has to say, there’s no denying that the Wizards are far more interesting and entertaining. So at least they have that going for them. . .
Yesterday marked a somewhat significant day of change for the Wizards, as Flip Saunders was fired. And while many fans rejoiced and ran through the streets of Chinatown screaming hallelujah, let’s take and step back and look at the big picture.
There was no question that Flip Saunders had to be fired. The roster that Ernie Grunfeld assembled had clearly tuned him out — something that Grunfeld himself alluded to in yesterday’s press conference. Flip’s bizarre bench rotations were also a major factor in his dismissal. Not to mention his 51-130 record as the head coach here in Washington.
However, the problems with the Washington Wizards run far deeper than Flip Saunders. The issues in this organization start at the top.
Ted Leonsis is the top. He’s the owner and the only person that can put an end to all the madness and chaos that continues to go on with the Wizards on a seemingly daily basis. Yet Leonsis’ commitment to patience and working this rebuilding plan are continuing to set his franchise back.
If I’m assigning blame for this catastrophe of a basketball team, Leonsis is culprit number two. Not too far behind the main antagonist, Ernie Grunfeld.
If you follow me on twitter — or anybody that knows anything about the NBA for that matter — you know what a terrible job Ernie Grunfeld has done with the Wizards. His decisions over the years have made many Wizards fans cringe, yell, punch holes in the wall, and take up alcoholism (I’m guessing). However, guess who still has a job? Ernie Grunfeld.
Yesterday’s press conference was another cringe-worthy Grunfeld event. He talked about everyone in the organization taking blame and responsibility, but just so happened to leave himself off the list of people that need to take said responsibility. Oops. He mentioned the players and coaches though, and just when you thought he’d mention himself needing to take blame… he didn’t. The problem with that is Ernie Grunfeld is the man that drafted, signed, or traded for all these players on the roster and he is the man that hired Flip Saunders. Was Flip Saunders to blame for this mess? He certainly deserved some of it, but as I said in my “Rebuilding Has Yet to Begin” article here on Wiz of Awes last month, what head coach could win with the roster Ernie Grunfeld assembled? The correct answer is no one.
But my biggest problem with what Grunfeld said yesterday was when he said “it’s not about wins and losses.” Then later on in the press conference he went on to say that he doesn’t want our players to get used to losing. Apparently Grunfeld fails to realize that this is professional sports, where it is always about the wins and losses — rebuilding or not. This take by Grunfeld leads to the greatest issue with the Wizards — their losing culture and negative atmosphere, thanks to Ernie Grunfeld. The Washington Wizards are as dysfunctional as it gets in sports. Factor in the losing atmosphere, incompetent leadership at the top, and a locker room full of bad influences that also lacks discipline and you get an abysmal train wreck. Which is what the Wizards have become.
While Grunfeld can continue to be optimistic about the Wizards’ future, he has to realize that you cannot build a foundation for future success while de-emphasizing winning. If you do that you’re only cultivating a losing environment.
Ernie Grunfeld ran the roster into the ground to the point where rebuilding was its only option and got to keep his job to dig himself out of the massive crater he created. He also handpicked Flip Saunders — albeit prior to the decision to rebuild — and helped Leonsis make the decision to fire him, but he got to keep his job? The main problem is Grunfeld, but he refuses to see it and Ted Leonsis doesn’t either apparently.
Moving away from the front office woes and onto the product on the court (another Grunfeld disaster), what should we expect with interim head coach Randy Wittman calling the shots?
The correct answer is “I have no idea”, but I don’t expect much to change. Wittman said a lot of good things yesterday at the press conference. He noted how he and Flip are polar opposites and that players need to earn their playing time on the court. Then he mentioned that John Wall needs to accept coaching, which caught many of us off guard. Why would he need to mention that, unless John has not been accepting coaching this season? I don’t know if that’s true or not, but with the way Wall has improved over the last two weeks I have a hard time believing he isn’t listening to his coaches.
The most interesting thing for me to see is if Wittman deems that Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee have not earned their playing time, will Grunfeld intervene and undermine the discipline like he has so many times in the past? Will Wittman tell Grunfeld to stay out of it or will he heed to Grunfeld’s wishes just so Ernie can see “his guys” on the court. Ernie is also under the illusion that Blatche specifically has value around the league, and if these teams that value Blatche see him sitting on the bench here in Washington they will become less interested. The surprise for Ernie is that no one in or around the NBA thinks Andray Blatche is worth anything. In fact, if he asked all 29 other teams for a ham sandwich in exchange for Blatche, the answer would be a quick “no, thanks”.
Until this off-season the Wizards are stuck with this roster for the most part. With Rashard Lewis, who has no game left. JaVale McGee and his continuous immaturity and mental lapses, even with his slight improvements. Andray Blatche and his pathetic play. Jordan Crawford and his shoot first, ask questions later mentality. Nick Young’s aversion to passing and playing team basketball. As well as the overall lack of talent on the roster.
Even after the firing of Flip, major organizational changes remain necessary in the front office, coaching staff, and with the players in the locker room and it’s hard to expect any real progress until then.
Any progress we may see in the mean time is merely a mirage.
Finally, as Flip Saunders walks out the door, don’t ever forget his lasting words, “don’t ever think it can’t get any worse, because it can.”
Want to sum up the Washington Wizards? Those words are the perfect way to do it.
Follow me on Twitter @WizOfAwesKevin and @Kevin_Hine