By this point we all know that team president Ernie Grunfeld’s contract expires after the season. What we don’t know is whether or not he’ll get a contract extension.
If you polled the Wizards’ fan base or people that simply pay attention to the NBA, the answer would be a resounding “no.” But unfortunately we aren’t the ones that get to determine Ernie Grunfeld’s fate. Only Ted Leonsis has that power.
Over the past few weeks there’s been plenty of rumors regarding a potential change at the general manager position, and I hope there’s fire to go along with all the smoke. However, just in case there isn’t, and Grunfeld does get a brand new contract extension, let’s look at the bright side and think about why Ernie Grunfeld being back as GM may not be the end of the world.
Looking back at Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure as general manager brings about a lot of emotion — mostly anger and sadness — but the past two seasons paint a slightly better picture.
It’s important that we separate the pre-Leonsis era and the post-Leonsis era, because we know Ted Leonsis will. On April 14, Michael Lee of the Washington Post wrote, “Leonsis has said he wouldn’t judge Grunfeld based on decisions that were made under the previous ownership.”
When Leonsis became owner, he wanted to see his new NBA franchise build through the draft and patiently rebuild over a number of years. There would be no quick fixes. After nearly two full seasons of this rebuilding plan, there’s certainly been a lot of patience to go along with all the losing. But this season, some of that patience ran out with Nick Young, JaVale McGee, and Andray Blatche.
Moves like trading away McGee and Young at the trade deadline are just two of Ernie Grunfeld’s good moves in this “Leonsis era” … And don’t worry, I’m not going to give Ernie Grunfeld credit for winning the 2010 draft lottery and selecting John Wall.
The first good move made by Grunfeld after Leonsis took over was the Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis trade. Yes, I know, Ernie is the one that gave Gilbert Arenas a max contract even though he knew about Gilbert’s knee injury, but remember, we’re talking about the Leonsis era only. Grunfeld was able to trade away Gilbert Arenas, his max contract, his bad knee, and all his baggage. He only got Rashard Lewis back in exchange for Arenas, but getting Gilbert Arenas as far away from John Wall as possible was essential. And it’s also important to note that Lewis’ contract also had one year less on it than Arenas’ did.
If we’re just evaluating Ernie’s moves over the past two seasons and forgetting about what he did with Abe Pollin as owner — which means forgetting about the max contract he gave Gilbert Arenas — then that trade was a huge success for Grunfeld, despite Rashard Lewis’ complete uselessness.
Over the past two years there’s also been some smaller trades that have worked in the Wizards’ favor.
Grunfeld acquired veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich and the draft rights to Kevin Seraphin from the Bulls on draft night in 2010. A few months later at the trade deadline Grunfeld traded Hinrich to the Hawks for a first-round draft pick that eventually became Chris Singleton and everybody’s favorite gunner, Jordan Crawford. And we can’t forget the veteran presence of Mo Evans in that trade.
As we stand today, Kevin Seraphin has developed his game leaps and bounds, Jordan Crawford is a proven scorer that’s best suited for a bench role, and Chris Singleton has had a pretty rough rookie year as a whole. That’s pretty good production the Wizards got in which they only had to give up Hilton Armstrong and the draft rights to Vladimir Veremeenko for.
Also on draft night in 2010, Grunfeld acquired Trevor Booker and Hamady Ndiaye from the Timberwolves in exchange for Lazar Hayward and Nemanja Bjelica.
To date, the 2010 draft has been a great success. It’s this past June’s draft in which the jury is still out.
Jan Vesely has improved as the season has wore on. He has a natural feel for the game; he can rebound; he’s active around the basket; he plays good pick and roll defense. It’s the art of shooting a jump shot that he has yet to master, and really it’s offensive basketball as a whole that he doesn’t quite understand. I like Vesely, and I think he can be a solid bench player in the future, but there were better players for Grunfeld to pick with the sixth pick.
With the second first-round pick, Grunfeld took Chris Singleton 18th overall. Right now there are plenty of doubters and skeptics of Chris Singleton — and rightfully so — but go back to draft night, Singleton was the absolutely right choice at the time.
At the top of the second round, Grunfeld chose Shelvin Mack. Getting a back-up point guard was a big need at the time — we didn’t want to have to watch Mustafa Shakur back-up John Wall again, did we? As a rookie, Mack has been solid, but a guy like Chandler Parsons was available with the 34th pick too, and he would have been a really nice pick, and perhaps the better pick.
But you can go back every year for every team and pick apart a draft class in hindsight.
I’m not trying to say that Ernie Grunfeld has been perfect during the Leonsis era, and without a doubt, the Wizards have a long way to go before they can begin to think about things like national relevance or contention. But has there been progress made? No question, there absolutely has been under Ernie Grunfeld over the past two seasons.
Even with all these holes on the roster that Grunfeld has built, I think we would all be pretty optimistic about a roster that potentially showcased John Wall and another high lottery pick — maybe Bradley Beal — in the same backcourt, with Kevin Seraphin, Nene, and Trevor Booker down low on the block, and Jordan Crawford coming off the bench. There’s something to work with there.
Of course it hasn’t all been pretty for Ernie over the past two seasons. He did give Andray Blatche a 35 million dollar extension over five years in September of 2010. Thank God for the amnesty clause, because Blatche will be nothing but a depressing memory in a few months.
I understand that a lot of Grunfeld’s “good moves” are addition by subtraction, but I see growth on Ernie’s part in that. Giving up on 7-Day-Dray, Swaggy P, and Pierre does show some maturity, because Ernie is the one that brought them here and he finally saw what we all saw — when in the past we doubted whether or not he’d ever get the message.
I know that this won’t satisfy most of you, and honestly it doesn’t fully satisfy me. It’s still hard for me to forget Grunfeld trading away the fifth pick in the draft in 2009 for Randy Foye and Miller, and remember when he drafted Oleksiy Pecherov in the first round? I do.
But maybe Grunfeld being back as team president would be more like a bad week, or month, okay, a bad couple of months rather than the end of the world.