Starting Over Again

Image via christopher.peplin on Flickr

I find myself looking at this Wizards trade and thinking to myself “OK, now we’re heading in a good direction. Throw out the old mindset, and bring in some high-level thinking.” Then I read things like this, and I feel a little cheated. Not completely cheated, but more like “Wow. My GM was totally outsmarted by that other GM, but it’s OK because that other GM sounds like he’s smarter than everyone.” But this isn’t the first time my GM has been outsmarted, and usually the other person outsmarting him isn’t as cunning as Ujiri (or at least as cunning as Mark Deeks paints him). The phrase “God, why doesn’t Ted Leonsis just freakin’ fire Ernie Grunfeld already?” has crossed my mind numerous times over the past two seasons, and that thought crossed my mind again after this trade went down.

This is the first of a few sensible moves the Wizards need to make. The next step is firing Ernie Grunfeld. Why fire him instead of letting his contract expire at the end of the season? Because this team needs to rebuild NOW and acquire rebuilding assets NOW, and Grunfeld (and his former boss, the late Abe Pollin) had been bad at managing both personnel and finances. The sooner a new GM is in place that has a vision for rebuilding and clearing the books, the better for Washington. Grunfeld is not that man. He’ll find a place somewhere, but not in Washington.

-Me, after Flip Saunders got fired in January

As a Fan, I want my team to move forward, and it cannot do so with bad personnel and with a management structure that’s responsible for bringing in that bad personnel and the lousy contracts for each person.

As a Person, though, why do I want this other person to be fired? Why do I want him to lose his livelihood, to no longer be able to provide for his family? I don’t know Ernie Grunfeld. I know of him. I’ve never met him. I know his resume, and I know his experience in the league. I’ve read his press releases, I’ve seen his work, and I’ve listened to his interviews. But I don’t know him. How can I wish so much ill on this man that I’ve never met?

I sat down wanting to write some sort of brash open letter, one that specifically broke down Grunfeld’s errors as GM of the Wizards. It’d be a long list, for sure. And there aren’t that many good moves. Most of the good moves he made were no-brainers (drafting Wall) or trading away players that he drafted or signed to absurd contracts. Cleaning up your own mess shouldn’t get you commended. My mom never praised me for cleaning my room after I destroyed it, it was just expected of me. And after all the listing of what he did for the Wizards and did to the Wizards, I would have said something like “And Ted Leonsis, this is why you have to fire him.”

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.

-Me, again, being a jerk

Who the f*** am I to decide his fate?

So as my Fanaticism and my Humanism battle it out for supremacy in this uphill path towards season-ticket renewal, here’s my attempt to level the two sides out:

The Wizards are an organization that is still suffering from the aftereffects of some bad personnel decisions. These decisions were both in contract distribution and in the attitudes of some players and other personnel. With a marquee point guard, a new coach on the horizon, and a new owner, this franchise needs to move in a direction away from that past. The team needs to rid itself of assets and acquire draft picks and flexibility in the process. Even if the draft picks are low, they can often be packaged later on for higher ones–picks around which a team can build a new core. The future of the franchise as a winning organization, a free-agency target, and a championship contender depends on moving away from that past. I hope the decision to bring the Wizards down that path are responsible, measured, and fair.

Amin Vafa

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