What Sort of Wizardry is This?


Ah yes, the Washington Wizards. What’s left to say that wasn’t already said? Not a whole lot, other than the fact that THIS TEAM IS TERRIBLE AND I DEMAND SATISFACTION. Can I do that? Can I be the voice of the irate fan right now? I think I’m gonna do it. Yep, here it comes.

This team has serious talent, attitude, depth, discipline, and attendance issues. The last issue will probably only get better when the other 5 issues are fixed. I’d like to think it increased this season from last season (jersey sales sure as hell did), but if the team continues to play like it did on Sunday, it’s not going to get better.

The case for keeping Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld
Flip is a good coach. He coached some very successful Timberwolves and Pistons teams through tough competition and deep into the playoffs. Before starting with the Wizards, he had a winning percentage of almost 60%. He took the job with the Wizards thinking he’d be coaching a veteran core of Jamison, Butler, and Arenas and trying to push them towards a playoff run. Instead, he had to deal with ineptitude on the court, guns in the locker room, a flurry of core-busting trades, the passing of the former owner, the passing of his mother, adjusting to a new owner, and coaching a team of scrubs who seem to want to win now, but don’t understand that they have to try to play in order to do that. Flip was hired for the 2009-2010 season on a four year contract, so he has one more season after this one.

Ernie has a long history in front offices. He served in the Knicks’ front office from 1989 to 1999, overseeing those deep Ewing-Starks-era Knicks playoff runs. From 1999 to 2003, he headed over to the Bucks and oversaw 4 seasons of playoff runs there. In 2003, he came over to the Wizards and populated the team with everyone on it now, in addition to everyone who was previously on it and was (all in one breath!) paid massive amounts of money to be chronically injured and/or carried firearms into the locker room of an arena of a team whose name was changed because of the owner’s desire to dissociate the team from violence (phew! inhale! exhale!). Ernie’s contract runs out at the end of this season. An owner who’s trying to be prudent about a team’s finances can’t be firin’ and hirin’ GMs all willy-nilly, can he?

The case for firing Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld
Literally, everything else. Oh, Flip. Flip Flip Flip. His basic job is to manage the existing personnel and make sure the pieces fit together somehow. Thanks to Grunfeld, they don’t fit together that well. Flip was brought in to be an offensively-minded coach. However, this team’s offense is absurdly impotent. Unfortunately, since they can’t play defense either, the score each night reflects an interesting balance of not being able to score and not being able to stop others from scoring. One of the best catalysts for change on a team is a personnel change: on the roster, in the coaching staff, or in the management. After events like that, teams usually have something to prove. Firing Flip might provide that spark. And that way, he and the team could distance themselves from this dreadful pairing that never should have happened (what up, hindsight?).

But the man who put the “talent” together, Grunfeld, has been holding this team back for years. He held the Butler/Jamison/Arenas core together long after it had gone rotten. I don’t think he’s got much of a mind for advanced stats; if he did, why would they have traded FOR Jordan Crawford? Why was Blatche given a multi-year extension? These guys are not efficient, and they don’t play well off Wall, the supposed focal point of this team.

Ernie’s contract winds up at the end of this season. If he were to stay til then, I’d imagine he wouldn’t be resigned. Leonsis likely kept him because he wanted to be prudent about managing the team finances, so firing him and paying another GM when this team is lottery bound and in transition anyway seemed like not enough of an investment. But if this team is lotterybound, wouldn’t you want a GOOD GM, who can eye good draft and trade talent, to get you a core going forward? Regardless, if Ernie stays on, I rescind my cult worship of Leonsis.

Confundus Charm
Here’s a problem: Besides tanking, how does this team acquire talent? Besides attrition, how does this team rid itself of pieces that aren’t working? No one is playing well enough to look like trade bait. Usually people are willing to take on a giant contract in exchange for some cap relief, but the two largest contracts on the Wiz are Blatche (who no one would want) and Lewis (who someone might want, but not for $22.2 million, who can’t be amnestied after a trade). How does a team wind up in a situation where they have to blow up a roster twice in two years? How do you blow up a roster when no one is willing to take the pieces?

Things are looking bleak in the Wizarding world right now, folks. Maybe Ted can get the rest of us fans (Washington and NBA, alike) a present on his birthday: a team that wants to try to win. Fire people. Hire people. Trade some people away. Acquire some new pieces. Buy everyone a vial of felix felicis. Something. Anything.

Amin Vafa

Amin grew up in Cleveland, lives in DC, and somehow still manages to love watching professional basketball.