NBA trade deadline: Is Ernie Grunfeld hoping for magic?

USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards GM has painted both himself and the franchise into a corner as the trade deadline approaches. Stagnancy looms large and heavy lies the crown in D.C.

Disillusionment is a concept speaking largely to the integrity of the original thought. The Ten Point Plan is a solid operational methodology with a few obvious holes, so I can't say I'm disillusioned.

However, the Marcin Gortat trade was the last straw that highlighted the inescapable fact that Ernie Grunfeld has seriously endangered the Wizards' rebuild. These short-term moves that have created a difficult situation that's manifesting itself at the trade deadline and will do the same over the summer, when difficult free agent decisions must be made.

"The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it, time becomes a narrow door." And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning "That path leads ever down into stagnation." -Frank Herbert in Dune.

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You know what? Stagnant is right where the Wizards are.

The Wizards' rebuild has passed through door after door, draft picks like a succession of guttering dumpster fires. Steadily-worsening trades don't hide the wreckage, they exacerbate it.

As draft picks failed to live up to their promise, veterans began appearing. That was not unexpected. Veterans are a part of the Ten Point Plan. But as the draft classes of 2010 and 2011 (and maybe 2013) faltered, fans slowly realized John Wall might not be getting much help with Grunfeld making the picks. The need for meaningful veteran contributors intensified correspondingly.

Grunfeld brought in Nene to act as the bridge veteran, easing some of the load from Wall's shoulders. Yet his arrival signaled the beginning of a pattern: the Wizards shipping out carefully-hoarded resources for players best suited as complementary options on a contender.

With cap powder expended, assets leveraged and a thoroughly mediocre team, Grunfeld has crippled this team's prospects, safely and defensibly, under the aegis of the Ten Point Plan. He must realize he has painted both himself and the Wizards into a corner. Worse, should the team continue to flounder, they're closer to missing the playoffs then swiping the third seed.

Grunfeld raised eyebrows back in the 98-99 lockout-shortened season as well when he was the Knicks GM. Out were John Starks and Charles Oakley, among others. In came Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby and a feud with Jeff Van Gundy (depending on who you ask).

The team flirted with .500 all year, until Knicks owner James Dolan flipped a coin and all but fired Grunfeld with the team sitting several games out of the playoffs near season's end. Then that seeming mess gelled, in a manner the most optimistic Wizards fan will refuse to entertain, on their way to an NBA Finals appearance, the only No. 8 seed in history to do so.

The 2014 trade deadline is his last opportunity to tweak the squad that will decide his fate in D.C., as his contract expires this summer. One simple test and one high-stakes question remain:

  • The test: Can Ernie improve the team's backcourt after the utter failure of Eric Maynor?
  • The question: Does Ernie fire Randy Wittman and entrust the team to Don Newman?

Of course, that's the problem with choosing the clear, safe path. The clear, safe choices have run out and desperation approaches. What irony that the Wizards GM has no option but to roll the dice and hope for magic.

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