Washington Wizards: All Quiet on the GM Front

Washington Wizards (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
Washington Wizards (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Closing in on a month since the Washington Wizards fired Ernie Grunfeld, there’s been no news on the search for his replacement. Should fans be worried?

Former Washington Wizards GM and enemy of the people Ernie Grunfeld was fired on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. In the immediate aftermath, team owner Ted Leonsis assured fans that the search for Grunfeld’s replacement would be deliberate, with goals and direction clearly defined. They even brought in Mike Forde, CEO of Sportsology and former senior manager of Chelsea F.C. to help change the organizational culture and assist in the GM search.

At the time of Grunfeld’s dismissal, Leonsis planned to take three weeks to talk to the basketball operations staff before making any decisions, per the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner. At that point, we could expect to hear something. It might not be a hiring, but it would be action. It would progress. It would be signs of life.

Well, the three-week mark has come and gone without a peep from the Wizards. While other playoff onlookers are taking advantage of the early offseason and getting a jump on organizational changes, the Wizards have stayed out of the headlines.

The New Orleans Pelicans hired former Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin, removing the man some saw as a front-runner from the Wizards GM pool. The Phoenix Suns have made a long-term commitment to interim GM James Jones, and then questionably fired Igor Kokoškov. Magic Johnson stepped down as president of the Los Angeles Lakers. Days later they fired head coach Luke Walton, who was quickly re-hired by the Sacramento Kings to replace Dave Joerger. And the Memphis Grizzlies have said goodbye to head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

So teams have been busy. Just not the Wizards. The silence in Washington makes it feel like the Wizards are quickly falling behind as they search for a GM. But that might not necessarily be the case.

For one, the Wizards have a guy in interim president Tommy Sheppard that has gotten support and praise from people inside and outside of the organization. However, sticking with an in-house promotion won’t feel like the clean and complete a break from the Grunfeld era that many would like. Sheppard may not be a Grunfeld disciple, but he’s not a fresh face, either. To a degree, he’s still in Grunfeld’s shadow.

And if what max point guard John Wall has to say about the situation means anything, don’t expect to see an internal promotion here. “Whoever we hire is going to be someone who’s been watching from the outside,” Wall said during his exit interview when asked about Grunfeld’s replacement, “Not the inside.”

The lack of activity could mean that the Wizards have their eyes on someone currently in the front office of a playoff team. Boston Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren and Denver Nuggets president Tim Connelly have both been rumored as likely candidates for the job. But with both teams currently focusing on their first round-foes, interviews with the Wizards probably aren’t priority number one.

Still, neither of those explanations really make sense as reasons for inactivity. Say the Wizards do indeed decide to stick with Sheppard. That’s fine if he proves to be the best man for the job. But how would they know that if they haven’t even interviewed other candidates? Plus, Sheppard was listed as a possible candidate for the New Orleans job before they hired Griffin. If the Wizards were set on him being the future GM in Washington, why would he go looking for a job elsewhere?

And while Zarren or Connelly might not be available for interview now, why not talk to the candidates that are.  Executives from other playoff teams—Golden State assistant GM Larry Harris, Brooklyn Nets assistant GM Trajan Langon, and Houston Rockets assistant GM Gersson Rosas—interviewed for the New Orleans job, per NBA.com. If they can interview in the midst of a playoff series, why wouldn’t Zarren and/or Connelly have the same ability?

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It’s weird that Leonsis would offer a deadline and then remain silent through it. If he wasn’t going to stick with it, why even offer it in the first place?

Grunfeld’s firing was long overdue and sent a shot of hopeful adrenaline through the fanbase after a long and disappointing season. But it just stepped one. If the Wizards can’t nail step two and bring in the right person for the job, that newfound hope might turn into familiar frustration quickly.  There’s still plenty of time for the Wizards to make their decision and make a great one. But the inactivity doesn’t bode well.