And the saddest thing of this all is that we should have seen it coming. Ernie Grunfeld is the same man who has never shown any inclination or ability to show restraint; to draft and develop talent to be the part of his team’s core. Yes he has used draft picks – quite poorly at that – but when he has had the chance, he has jumped at the opportunity to turn those picks into handsomely-compensated veterans whom he at the time felt were the key to some form of contention.
We should have seen it coming when Grunfeld – who then was in the final months of his deal with no contract extension – was allowed to bring in Nene for what basically amounted to a very expensive, multi-year “free agent” commitment. That was the writing on the wall that Grunfeld would be back for more (after all, what lame-duck executive would be allowed to trade one of his team’s most talented though mercurially frustrating players, and at the same time bringing in a player owed over $50 million?) The “process” in that trade was faulty as well, and that was the writing on the wall that he was still fumbling the process while following a results-oriented philosophy of negotiating trades and building a team. The rhetoric at the time was adding veterans to create a more professional environment and to teach the kids how to play. But the whispers were that Grunfeld and the Wizards brass were afraid that McGee would demand a contract starting at $14 million a year, well above his value and rather than deal with that headache and his possible failure to live up to his potential, cashed him in for more of a sure thing. The flaw in that logic is that they held all the leverage with McGee – who will merely be a restricted free agent – and they should not have negotiated from a position of weakness; should not have made a deal out of fear when they held all the cards. All of that is to say nothing of needing to bring in the Clippers to help facilitate the deal by taking a player whome they wanted and who wanted them anyway. An opportunistic team could’ve seen the chance there to reach out to the Clippers – who were in need of a shooting guard for their playoff run – to see if they could pilfer an asset in exchange for Young, at that point merely an expiring deal to the Wizards. Instead, they needed the Clippers just to complete the JaVale/Nene swap.
No one – including me (at least on the record) – complained too loudly about that trade because of the results: Nene is a better player than McGee, and because McGee and Young were seen as part of the problem in Washington anyway. Of course, that “problem” – failure to establish a culture of winning, professionalism, and accountability, and failure to stimulate the potential of their young players into kinesis – has been overseen by the same man who has been calling the shots for the last decade, through two owners, four coaches, and 10 seasons of mediocrity-to-laughableness, and he is now armed with a new two-year extension.
The slow and steady, smart and opportunistic rebuilding process was Ted’s plan, and it is one that has proven to work in the NBA and even for Leonsis’ own Washington Capitals. Ted has had the right ideas, but Ernie has proven that he is not the best person to execute them. With Leonsis declaration at last month’s draft lottery that he doesn’t want to be in the lottery anymore, Ernie saw his chance to dive back into the mediocrity pool, to validate his new contract, and so he pulled on his Orlebar Browns, grabbed the arm-floaties, and took the plunge. It is no small coincidence that, as Kevin pointed out, the contracts of Okafor and Ariza last just as long as Grunfeld’s. He hopes to ride their “veteran leadership” to a couple of playoff appearances, and hope that is proof enough for Ted to ink him for two, three, or more years.
I will never call for another man to lose his job. I would rather Ernie follow a more sage approach to his architecture, to milk the process, and become a more shrewd negotiator; or else hire one of the increasingly-common executives with a legal, analytical or executive background in the mold of Orlando’s recent hire, Rob Hennigan, where, in tandem, the young exec could operate as General Manager to Grunfeld’s President/traditional/basketball background; a tandem like Larry Bird and David Morway of Indiana formed to build that team into a playoff contender. But, no. Ernie Grunfeld is all about results.
And now for the next two years, Wizards fans get to watch as the results of his reign continue to unfold.