A few days ago, I argued Ernie Grunfeld has done the job he sold Ted Leonsis on when he made the OkAriza trade, inferring there that he made the 2012/13 season about an organizational shift from cellar dweller to serious squad with playoff focus. That's no sure thing and Ernie bet the team's carefully cultivated cap space (and his job, most likely) to do it. The gamble paid off. In business, when you achieve the goal your boss signs off on, you don't get fired.
It got hairy, sure. That .500 or bust thing after a mere seven games should tell fans how seriously displeased Ted was at the team and surely had EG sweating under his collar. But the team came through and over half a season's worth of data is not a small sample size.
It's not enough to satisfy fans, we who have seen our share of late season success come too late paraded as hale and sustainable progress.
We could point to the fact that Grunfeld has NEVER drafted a starting-caliber big man in 20-plus years as a General Manager. That wasn't news when Leonsis retained him. We can point to the fact that Grunfeld has drafted or acquired seven first round draft picks since the rebuild began and, outside of the no-brainer lottery picks in John Wall and Bradley Beal, has not found a starting-caliber talent. Funny as it may sound to you, Kevin Seraphin and JaVale McGee are the jewels of Grunfeld's big man drafting resume.
But it's not like Leonsis doesn't know these things. Grunfeld has bought himself some time, that's all. Leonsis wants a playoff team, yes, but he isn't after the Atlanta Hawks redux. He wants a contender. The last time Grunfeld built one, he was all but fired by the Knicks before the veteran squad came together and roared to a Finals run. That's not the team Leonsis is looking to build.
Grunfeld has pushed the pressure of this season forward to the next, which was the chokepoint anyway. The OkAriza trade made 2013/14 the moment of truth. When that season and its attendant trade activities are complete, we're going to have a clearer view of the rebuild and a better idea of whether or not this team will be a contender during Wall's second contract.
There is an ocean of uncertainty in the front-court, with four first round picks whose upside appears to be quality depth, Grunfeld must make a movie to find a complementary star for John Wall and Bradley Beal if the Wizards are to make some real noise. It won't be easy.
Due to the size of Nene's and OkArizas' deals, the Wiz have approximately $35 million of their cap tied up in three veterans. Two are, currently on expiring deals and may carry some value on the trade market, but with Beal andWall off the bargaining table, the Wiz will unlikely be able to command much of a return with remaining assets on the roster.
With iffy trade chances, Grunfeld will have to work some serious magic, or it's no stretch of the imagination the Wizards will be under new management in 2014/15. There must be dominant talent in the frontcourt, or (barring superstar turns from both Wall and Beal) this team may peak as the defense-oriented version of the Brooklyn Nets.