The Washington Wizards have won their first playoff series since 2005 and only their second playoff series over the past 30 plus years. The team is built around a 23 year old All-Star point guard–John Wall, a 20 year old 2nd year shooting guard–Bradley Beal, multiple veterans on expiring contracts, a veteran big who just annihilated the reigning Defensive Player of the Year–Nene, and a 2013 lottery pick who is being developed prudently–Otto Porter. Additionally the Wizards have the cap space to pursue a max-free agent if they choose to do so, if they opt to let a few key players walk in the near future. On the surface you’d think the architect of this team has done a great job, but attach the name Ernie Grunfeld to it and the ire from the fans and the skepticism is undeniable. With Ernie in the last year of a two-year contract extension he signed in April 2012, the question that has to be asked is has Ernie Grunfeld done enough to deserve a new contract?
Let me start with this – I absolutely think that Grunfeld has earned the opportunity to interview for his position. He’s not a popular figure amongst the fans but making a retroactive decision does not take into account where the franchise is today. It probably sounds like I’m making the argument to keep Grunfeld, but I’m not. I’m merely pointing out that being angry that he received a contract extension in 2012 and wanting him fired without analysis of the now is pointless. The conversation at season’s end has to be being centered around one overriding them; can he make this group a true title contender? Grunfeld built a team that in the 2004-2005 season won 45 games, entered the playoffs as a 5th seed, and advanced to the second round by beating the Chicago Bulls (hmmm, I guess they own the Bulls). In terms of playoff success, that was that group’s peak. How will it be different with this nucleus? That conversation should include the following talking points:
- What will he do about Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza? If Grunfeld retains one or both of these impending free agents how will they be able to significantly add to the roster? By default, will his plan for true contention then be centered around further growth by the backcourt and a contribution from Otto Porter? The flip side is the market is thin in terms of unrestricted free agent big-men and Trevor Ariza has been one of the team’s best players this season.
- How will he eventually add a younger “core” frontcourt piece to this roster? The backcourt is in-place but Washington’s primary frontcourt players are long in the tooth. Nene will be 32 years old before training camp next season and if Marcin Gortat (assuming he re-signs) will be 31 years old by mid-season. Without a first round pick, this task becomes that much more difficult. Re-signing Gortat leaves the Mid-Level Exemption as the primary tool available to navigate the salary cap. If you don’t re-sign Gortat the best free agent big is Greg Monroe, but he’s a restricted free agent and the Detroit Pistons can match any offer he receives. Does Grunfeld have a diamond in the rough in mind; a player who perhaps can be attained for a moderate price or in a trade?
- How will he be prepared for The Summer of Durant? I know, I know, the chances are slim BUT if a Franchise Player caliber free agent is ever going to come to the Wizards, Kevin Durant is that guy. It is imperative for this franchise to be in position from a contention perspective and have the assets and/or salary cap flexibility to acquire him if he’s willing to play for his hometown team. Can Grunfeld have a team that’s close enough in terms of contention while preserving the necessary cap-room to make a legitimate run the likely MVP?
This summer is critical to what’s going to happen with this franchise over the next few seasons. With the series win over the Bulls, the proverbial window has opened. Does Grunfeld have a plan that will capitalize on it?