I haven't been around much the last couple days because I was working on this article for SBNation.com ranking all 30 NBA GMs, using as qualitative an analysis as possible. Anyway, I decided to rank Ernie Grunfeld 18th, which is a lot higher than I thought I'd rank him when I began the analysis. Below the jump, my thoughts on Ernie:
There's a big misconception that Grunfeld has no plan with anything he's doing. That's really not true at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite -- Grunfeld sticks to "plans" so diligently that he doesn't fulfill his other duties as a general manager.
Like Rick Sund in Atlanta, Grunfeld stuck himself between a rock and a hard place coming into the pivotal 2008 offseason. He did extremely well on many of his early moves in D.C., but began clogging up his cap with long contracts to so-so players. When it came time to decide what to do with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, Grunfeld was faced with the same "status quo vs. really slow rebuild" quandary. He chose the former, and considering he worked for an owner (Abe Pollin) that was in his 80s and had no time for a long rebuild, he sort of had no choice. That also explains many of his moves after 2008, such as the trade for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. His owner wanted a veteran team that could win right now, so Grunfeld had to give it to him. Now, he's carrying out new owner Ted Leonsis' vision, and so far, he's sticking to the plan.
That said, there are two troubling things about Grunfeld. First, he seems to neglect the draft far too often. He's traded a top-five pick twice in his GM tenure for non-all stars, and the picks he has made (prior to 2010 of course) have all been shot-in-the-dark picks. Some of Grunfeld's projects have worked out, but he should have been augmenting those picks with players more ready to contribute right away.
Second, he consistently fails to get good value on his trades, especially recently. While the Miller/Foye trade fulfilled a plan, Grunfeld depreciated the value of his best asset (the fifth pick) by making his intentions of trading the pick way too public. He also only got expiring contracts (for the most part) for Butler, Haywood and Jamison, and took on a far bigger contract in Hinrich than other teams looking to pick up assets from clubs dumping salary to get under the cap (i.e. Houston and Oklahoma City).
In the end, Grunfeld certainly knows what he's doing, but loses a lot of points for his shaky execution of his boss' visions.