The walls of NBA blogs are lined thick with endless missives that chide teams for hiring and re-hiring the same revolving cast of either veteran players, recycled coaches, or general managers. And it's never easy criticizing anyone's employment in this day and age — any day and age, really — so understand that we don't go into this giddy at the prospect of wondering why someone got a gig. But Washington re-signed longtime GM Ernie Grunfeld on Tuesday, and it's safe to say that we're a little dubious about his extension.
Grunfeld is a respected ex-player and longtime personnel chief. As GM of the Knicks, he orchestrated two controversial trades for Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell, deals that seemed to take the Knicks nowhere fast until he was dismissed just weeks before then-coach Jeff Van Gundy started to play the two speedsters more often. On the back of Camby and Spre, the Knicks made the Finals that year, though Grunfeld was gone by then, and on his way to Milwaukee. With the Bucks, Grunfeld worked with George Karl to put together the team's first postseason turns in years, before taking a gig with the Washington Wizards in 2003. Though Grunfeld took in some early success in the wake of Michael Jordan's disastrous era with that team, it's been a tough few years since the Wizards last made the playoffs in 2008.
They won't be making the postseason again this year, as the team prepares to slide into home with the league's second-worst record. More frustratingly, the team's last two lottery picks have had to work through inconsistent turns with the team, while Grunfeld determines just who the squad's next head coach is going to be. The group will have impending cap space and another high pick, and it's clear that owner Ted Leonsis wants Grunfeld to head up his latest rebuilding project. Is he the dude for the deals? We're not entirely sure.
Just in Washington, irrespective of his successful turns in New York and Milwaukee, Grunfeld has had his fair share of good moves. Finding a cornerstone big man in Nene for a wacky stat-grabber in JaVale McGee was a sound deal, even if it loaded more salary onto Leonsis' payroll. Taking advantage of the cap-clearing Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks to pick up defensive center Kevin Seraphin was a solid choice, he's a real comer, though the acquisition of Jordan Crawford (gained from the Hawks) might never pan out unless Crawford realizes he's more of a "Crawford" than a "Jordan."
Considering he was basically a per-minute wonder back then, Grunfeld did quite well in outpacing the Warriors and Clippers in signing Gilbert Arenas back in 2003, and he was smart to not try and compete with bids for Larry Hughes (even after Hughes made the All-Star team) two years later. This is also a man who somehow turned Kwame Brown into Caron Butler, employing Caron during his prime years as a reward.
He's also the guy that extended Gilbert Arenas' monster contract in the summer of 2008, to the tune of six years and $111 million, even after Arenas tore his meniscus, didn't properly rehabilitate, and looked to be a shell of himself in his brief appearances during the 2007-08 campaign. He also committed to Antawn Jamison with a four-year $50 million deal, then 32 years old and past his prime, to appease Arenas. The resulting fallout (with Jamison being traded for cap relief and the 30th pick in the draft; and Arenas heading to Orlando for Lewis' nearly-as-bad deal) hasn't been pretty. The Wizards have been amongst the worst in the NBA, even after putting together a win-now move in dealing for Mike Miller and Randy Foye in exchange for Wizards draft picks before the 2009 draft.
His work in the draft has been capable enough, tilted mostly because the Wizards earned the number one pick in the 2010 showcase and selected John Wall. Rookie jumper Jan Vesely has been steadily improving all year, though both have provided inconsistent and spotty play during this shortened season.
And then there's the Brothers Goof.
Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were routinely relied upon during Grunfeld's tenure, and their low-IQ play on both ends of the court dug the Wizards into too many holes to count. If anything, this has been a hallmark of Grunfeld's time in Washington — unlike his run in New York, when he was just fine with trading sacred franchise cows like Charles Oakley and John Starks, Grunfeld's commitment to last year's cast of characters and "maybe a few more additions" (like the Miller and Foye trade) has hurt this franchise. He's blowing it up now, to be sure, but only after just about every other option was exhausted. While costing the team two and possibly three coaches along the way.
Again, the Wizards will see cap space this summer mainly because Grunfeld can't help but pull the trigger in eliminating the non-guaranteed portion of Lewis' deal, and using the amnesty clause on the final year of Andray Blatche's contract. He's built very good teams, before. He's built playoff teams in three cities, which not a lot of current NBA GMs can say about themselves. He's not an Isiah Thomas. He's not a Michael Jordan, who probably still can't get served at the bar in the nation's capital.
But given a franchise point guard in Wall, a solid center, a litany of lottery picks and plenty of impending financial freedom, is Grunfeld the guy needed to take Washington from "potentially pretty good" to "pretty darn great"? He's done second rounds, but can he do championships?
This summer will say quite a lot. And we'll be watching, blog scroll in hand.
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