When the Wizards swapped Rashard Lewis and the 43rd pick in the 2012 draft for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, the rosiest consensus tended towards 'General Manager Ernie Grunfeld has spent the Wizards carefully cultivated cap powder on players that, at best, will make this a .500 ball club.' When John Wall returned from injury and the team's record showed improvement over a small sample size, owner Ted Leonsis laid down the gauntlet for the last place Wiz: .500 or bust. That's a hell of a shot across the bow to a salaried employee.
The team is surging, aiming at 9th place and with the Wizards on the verge of being a marginal playoff team next year it would seem the trade has realized the limited potential pundits predicted. So if the result is what analysts were so concerned about, why is this a big win for Ernie Grunfeld?
We need to consider what Ernie sold Ted Leonsis. With a free agent crop largely unsuited to the Wizards' needs in 2013, it is my belief that Ernie sold Ted 'the' organizational shift from lottery team to winning institution while betting big on youth. The Ten Point Plan had to be instrumental in that gambit.
When it comes to the 2013 free agent class, there are players who could help the Wiz win now (Paul Millsap, David West), but they're likely to command longer, high dollar contracts. The Ten Point Plan prefers to reserve those for deals for young incumbents or landscape-altering talents. For veterans, the Plan wants high-character players on shorter deals in keeping with the way the team wants to play.
The plan also mandates tossing core players into the deep end of the pool and the OkAriza gambit bet big on that score. When factored into the Nene trade, the selection of Bradley Beal and to everyone's surprise and delight, Martell Webster, John Wall was surrounded by starting quality talent for the first time since playing for John Calipari. Washington's youth have gotten plenty of burn and now it's on them to help the team win as time ticks away on their rookie contracts.
There's no doubt that every other rookie not named Bradley Beal has serious bones to make come next season and the fact that the Grunfeld hasn't drafted a starter in this rebuild outside of the no-brainer picks is not a point in his favor.
But while no one will credit him with Danny Ainge's uncanny ability to find excellent talent outside the lottery, EG sold a plan to his owner that fits the team's operational philosophy while effecting the transition from perennial lottery squad to playoff team. A firing seemed assured after a 5-28 start, but you know what? It's April and the Wizards only now got mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. That's amazing and it's something else: it's mission: accomplished.
When this team talks about shooting for the ninth seed, about not being eliminated yet, I believe them. I take them seriously. They back their words up with the endless scrap and wild finishes on the floor. They aren't perfect but they are relentless. Winning matters. Losing hurts. Challenges are accepted and growth is seen. An organizational shift has occurred in Washington and this is a playoff quality team with John Wall emerging as a superstar. Bradley Beal is showing star talent. All the veterans are contributing meaningfully and fostering a winning environment. The rookies are toeing the company line. Randy Wittman demands accountability and the players listen.
And Ernie Grunfeld is steering the ship. See you next year, EG.