I, along with a couple other reporters, had a good chat with Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld after the press conference where Jan Vesely was introduced. Grunfeld provided a number of interesting nuggets about Vesely, the team's history with him and how they approached the 2011 NBA Draft. Here's a summary:
Vesely was on their radar for a long time: During the press conference, Flip Saunders said the Wizards identified Vesely "a few years ago" as a guy they wanted. Grunfeld elaborated on that, saying the Wizards had followed him for "three years, at least." He added that they "intensified that process" the last couple years, when Vesely was potentially draft-eligible. He even said that they would have considered taking him last year had he stayed in the draft and had the Wizards not won the lottery.
"Last year, we [originally] had the fifth or sixth pick, and he was one of the guys in our wheelhouse as we were really looking at."
Grunfeld himself said he saw him play two or three times in person this year, and was also scouting him at the Euroleague Final Four last year.
On Vesely not coming over until this year: Many draft experts pegged Vesely as a lottery pick in 2010, but he elected to stay in Europe for one more year. In the press conference, Vesely said he wanted to mature a bit more and get some more minutes and a bigger role.
"The most important thing was to stay to play one more year, to get more minutes and to grow up, on the basketball side and with my personal life," Vesely said.
Once again, Grunfeld elaborated a bit on this.
"I think he had a very good relationship with his coach at the time, and he thought he could learn a lot from this particular coach," he said. "He felt comfortable in this situation, and maybe emotionally, he didn't want to change so drastically."
"Emotionally, maybe he wasn't ready," Grunfeld concluded. "Physically, I think a lot of teams would have looked at him last year too."
On how high Vesely was on their board: Not figuring to get much of an answer, I nevertheless asked Grunfeld which players they rated high on their draft board and where Vesely fit in on that list. I was surprised to get a fairly candid response from Grunfeld.
"Every draft, you have groupings, and he was definitely in that top grouping. We didn't know what position it was (ed. note: translation: we know, but we're not going to tell you), but the three European players (ed. note: Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and Vesely) were in there along with [Derrick] Williams and [Kyrie] Irving and one or two other players. Tristan Thompson -- nobody thought he'd go 4 -- but he was in that grouping too."
So essentially, the Wizards' top tier was the top six players in the draft. That's why Grunfeld said he was never worried about Vesely going higher than 6.
"You're concerned, but you have to be prepared," he said. "We knew our list, we knew who we wanted and we felt good that we had six players up on the board. We knew we'd get one of those six. So it just depended on what position, but it worked out well for us and for Jan. He comes to a team he likes, number one, and has a player like a John [Wall] that can make the game easier for him."
On Chris Singleton: Unsurprisingly, Grunfeld said the Wizards had Chris Singleton rated higher than he went.
"After the first seven or eight, he was in the next group of players. He could have gone 8 or 9 to some teams," Grunfeld said. "I think Charlotte really liked him at 9, but then they made the trade for Biyombo."
Speaking of Biyombo: Not that it matters, but in case there was any doubt, the Wizards never seriously considered him.
"We saw him overseas, but we didn't go to his workout," Grunfeld said, before pausing for the right words. "We were looking for different types of players right now."
Grunfeld relates to Vesely: You may not know this, but Grunfeld was actually born in Romania and immigrated to the United States as a kid. When he got here, he didn't speak a word of English. In this way, he felt a bit connected to Vesely, who left his home country to go to Slovenia and then to Serbia to play basketball. Vesely said he taught himself Serbian in a month, and Grunfeld admired that because it reminded him of his experience learning English.
"I relate to him because he speaks three different languages," he said. When I came here, I didn't speak a word of English. The way he communicates and the way he understands -- even the way he understands jokes -- is not that easy for someone where it's not your primary language."
"We could be related, who knows?" Grunfeld joked. Then, he paused and added, "When it comes to athleticism, maybe not."