To outsiders, I imagine the recent uptake in anti-Kwame posts comes as a bit of a surprise. "You guys got Caron Butler for him, why do you even care what happens to him? Why are you still complaining?"
The thing is, Kwame represents more than a disappointment. He's a symbol of the one very essential thing our front office has constantly screwed up: the draft.
Because, you see, drafting well is the key to team success in today's day and age. For one, the draft is the only place in which you can get a player for absolutely nothing. No matter your cap or roster space, you're awarded a draft pick. Even the strength of your team doesn't preclude you from the chance of adding somebody. Then, once that player is drafted, you own them for four years for a really small rookie contract, one that's for less than the value of the mid-level exception. Once that contract is up, you get not one, but two chances to keep them when no other teams, practically speaking, can steal him away, because of the rules of restricted free agency. Finally, even with those chances, you still get all the built-in advantages of re-signing your own free agent (Bird Rights, the sixth year, etc).
The point is, if you get an impact player or even a solid contributor in the draft, it's so much easier to keep them without overpaying than if you do the same via trade or free agency.
This is something this franchise has never understood, going back far before Ernie Grunfeld and the new CBA. We haven't drafted and re-signed a potential core player since Juwan Howard. There was John Nash trading not one, not two, but five draft picks in order to account for the difference in talent between Tom Gugliotta and Chris Webber. With no draft picks, we had no depth beyond our top six guys and never made the type of improvements we should have. Then, on our first first-rounder in years, we finally draft a solid contributor in Richard Hamilton, only
to trade him away for Jerry Stackhouse, who helped destroy any progress our franchise could have made.
2001 rolled around and we got lucky with the top pick. Finally, a chance to add a franchise guy for nothing. Kwame was supposed to be the homegrown cornerstone that we didn't need to overpay or trade assets/cap space to gain. All complimentary pieces would have been easier to fill. Instead, we all know what happened. Kwame stunk, MJ traded our other future core guy for an older version, and we missed a chance to build a team in the easiest way possible.
Botched lottery picks like Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes followed, making team-building even more difficult. Not finding key contributors in the lottery kills a franchise. Just ask the Hawks or the Clippers.
In a way, this gives me far, far more respect to Ernie Grunfeld. He's been able to build a pretty solid team despite the previous regimes' incredible disinclination for the most important part of the process. Signing Gilbert Arenas may have been lucky more than anything, but the Jamison and Butler trades were incredible in that Ernie went the hard way in finding our other two building blocks. He hasn't had all that much success in the draft either, but to be fair, he's only had one lottery pick, and it was necessary to sacrifice it to find some value for cancers like Stackhouse and Christian Laettner. The jury's still out on Nick, Pech, McGuire, Blatche and McGee, but hopefully they become guys who can give us mid-level-type production for cheap.
Of our top nine guys, only three (Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Andray Blatche) were players we drafted (editor's note: This should read "rookies acquired on draft day," as we didn't actually draft Brendan or Etan). Haywood's a bargain, a rare instance of the previous regime getting things right (and an instance of Ernie showing great foresight with his contract extension). Etan was somebody who should have received the Jarvis/Jared treatment, but didn't and is now a bad contract, while Blatche is a second-round pick. Compare that to the eight teams that made the second round. Only Detroit is not anchored by a player they drafted. Boston has Pierce, the Lakers have Kobe, San Antonio has Duncan (and Parker and Ginobili), Utah has Deron Williams, New Orleans has Paul (and David West), Cleveland has LeBron and Orlando has Dwight Howard. A lot of those teams also have at least one guy in their rotation on a small rookie contract. Guys like Rajon Rondo, Kendirck Perkins, Jason Maxiell, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronnie Brewer and Boobie Gibson made big contributions for a tiny price. You have to draft well to find guys like that.
As it stands now, we're paying for previous regimes. Instead of draft picks filling the role of rotation guys, we have mid-level exception-type contracts. Instead of franchise cornerstones acquired through the draft, we have guys acquired through trades and free agency, two of which we needed to overpay slightly to keep. It's pretty remarkable, actually, that we're even in as good a position as we are. Credit Ernie for that.
No matter what, though, the route Ernie has been forced to take is far less effective than what would have happened if Kwame was the franchise player we drafted him to be. For that reason, he will continue to be bashed even though his Wizards tenure ended over three years ago.