WARNING: Incoherent thoughts ahead
I'm mildly disappointed with the end result of the Juan Carlos Navarro trade, but I'm not angry at Ernie. To a certain extent, I think his hands were tied. As much as Navarro tried to play the good soldier, it became clear that Memphis was his preferred destination once they entered the bidding. No matter what, he was going to go to Memphis. Ernie was hoping that Chris Wallace would overpay to appease Pau Gasol. That's why, in hindsight, he negotiated so much with teams like Miami for garbage players like James Posey and Michael Doleac. He was hoping that Memphis would up the ante and even potentially take Etan Thomas off our hands.
But in doing this, Ernie ran into a couple problems. First, by signing Stevenson, he indicated to the league that he had no interest in keeping Navarro. To be clear, I think signing Stevenson early was the right move, because if another team entered the bidding, Ernie risked having to either let Stevenson go or overpay to retain him. I also strongly believe that Ernie should not have signed JCN over Stevenson because JCN's skills are totally redundant on this team. Still, I think Ernie underestimated the effect Stevenson had on JCN's price. Teams that could have used JCN didn't offer as much as they could have. Miami didn't dangle Udonis Haslem, Cleveland didn't try to include Anderson Varejao or Drew Gooden, and Boston didn't include any of their youngsters.
The second problem is that Miami was the wrong team to use to drive up JCN's price. Ernie was hoping that Pat Riley's interest in Navarro would yield a good offer, but Miami simply has no assets to trade. Antoine Walker and James Posey have no trade value, Jason Williams had no use here, and Dorrell Wright offered redundant skills. About the only chance the Wizards have to really make Memphis panic was if Riley included Haslem in the deal, but that was never going to happen. Once Ernie decided not to go for the James Posey package, Miami decided the only way this would work would be to offer a second-round pick, which is already worse than what Memphis was offering. Why would Memphis offer a lot when the best alternative was to take one of Miami's crappy veterans?
In the end, Wallace called Ernie's bluff. Ernie tried to make it seem like he was negotiating from a position of strength, but when nobody else offered anything substantial, he had to accept Memphis' protected draft pick. The self-imposed deadline by FC Barcelona certainly didn't help either. The alternative was getting nothing, so Ernie had to accept the draft pick.
So why am I not upset at Grunfeld? Because there was very little he could have done to prevent any of the problems he encountered. He could have stalled negotiations on Stevenson, but that wasn't going to do us any good unless Stevenson miraculously got lowballed around the league for the second straight summer. Ernie also can't control which teams want JCN the most. Besides Memphis, the two teams that wanted JCN were Cleveland and Miami. Unless either was offering a first-round pick, the only way Ernie could drive the price up was enticing them to take on Etan Thomas for a decent player (ideally another big guy), expiring contracts, or a promising youngster. Neither Cleveland nor Miami showed any interest in trading a decent player for Navarro, neither had any relevant expiring contracts, and the Wizards had no use for their youngsters (unless Cleveland threw in Daniel Gibson, which obviously wasn't going to happen). Other teams had the assets, but had no interest in JCN. That's just unlucky.
Like I said yesterday, there are some teams that could use Etan Thomas, but Miami and Cleveland aren't those teams. Memphis is definitely not one of those teams, not with guys like Hakim Warrick and Stromile Swift on the roster. If someone like Dallas or Houston entered the bidding, that would have made Ernie's job easier, but you can't create interest in Navarro when there's nothing there. That, more than anything, derailed any chance of getting more than this first-round pick.
Hence, mild disappointment.