Washington Wizards: Ernie Grunfeld’s Shadow Looms in Wizards Loss to Bulls

Washington Wizards, Bradley Beal (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
Washington Wizards, Bradley Beal (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards may have moved on from Ernie Grunfeld, but they didn’t move on from their frustrating losing tendencies.

In many ways, the beginning of the post-Ernie Grunfeld era was a microcosm of his tenure with the Washington Wizards: The team had more talent than the opposing bench and a bigger payroll, yet still couldn’t get the win. On Wednesday night, the Wizards fell 115-114 to the Chicago Bulls.

Somewhat fittingly, the loss came against the team Grunfeld made his last major deal with at the February trade deadline when he swapped Otto Porter for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. The game was a walk down memory lane of the Grunfeld experience.

On one hand, the game showcased a Grunfeld success. On Wednesday, Bradley Beal, who Grunfeld drafted with the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 NBA Draft, became the first Washington player with 2,000 points, 400 rebounds, and 400 assists in a season.

That’s a remarkable feat that should not be overlooked. In the last decade, only six players have reached those totals: Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook. Toss in at least 200 three-point field goals in a season, and Beal joins only Curry, Harden, and Westbrook on that list in the entire league’s history.

On the other hand though, we also saw what brought fans so much frustration and angst over his 16 years.

Known for not making the wisest of financial decisions, Wednesday’s game featured many of Grunfeld’s recent expensive signings. And none of them actually even saw the floor! Whether it was due to injury-plagued seasons (John Wall and Dwight Howard), currently on another roster (Porter), or because they’re flatly just not good enough (Ian Mahinmi), the ghosts of these contracts still haunted the game in their own way.

And then there are the question marks that Grunfeld’s moves always seemed to bring, and somehow end up feeling like deciding between he lesser of two evils. Are Parker and Portis part of the Wizards’ future, or just stopgap players? Will the team regret bringing them back more than they will if they let them go and find success elsewhere? Are they worth the cost of the gamble of paying them for their potential versus their actual production? These decisions tended to be close enough to persuade the Wizards front office to go for it, but hardly seemed to work out.

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Grunfeld may be long gone, but his presence wasn’t on Wednesday night. If it was still felt in just one game, imagine what it’s going to feel like digging out of this for the next few seasons.