The 2014 offseason has been circled in red by hardcore Wizards fans since John Wall was drafted. The Washington Wizards designated franchise player is officially off his rookie deal and in likelihood will be the highest-paid Wizard through the 2018/19 season. The OkAriza trade further reinforced the critical nature of the coming summer. If the notion of Ernie Grunfeld still at the wheel doesn't surprise you, that only means you've been paying attention. (Whether it upsets you is, of course, a whole different discussion).
John Wall can talk all he wants about how the Wizards could have won 55 games last season, but the fact of the matter was Andre Miller and Drew Gooden were the difference between the No. 5 seed and a struggle to keep from falling out of the playoffs entirely.
A terrible bench is no accident; Grunfeld is demonstrably poor at drafting anyone not named Bradley Beal. (No credit given for drafting John Wall when Ted Leonsis busts out his dance after winning the lottery.) But a GM is measured by his results and he has finally, finally, delivered something.
This is no delirous praise, obviously, and you wouldn't expect it from
vermin someone who blasted the Wizards' stagnancy as the trade deadline approached. Grunfeld got the 11th hour magic he needed to kick the Wiz into gear, but that instills little confidence looking at the 2014 offseason.
Even taking Grunfeld to task for the roster construction issues several months ago, I found it impossible to ignore the storybook similarities between the 1998-99 Knicks and 2013-14 Wizards. What we don't know is what happened next, because Grunfeld was 'temporarily relieved of duties' before those Knicks made their historic run to the NBA Finals. He did preside over a largely inherited Knicks Finals squad in 1992-93 under the guidance of Pat Riley, but the 98-99 squad was his as the 13-14 Wizards are his and that's really the point.
The OkAriza trade ensured, barring a blockbuster, the Wizards starting lineup would be in flux this summer and that isn't something a bench signing can fix. This is when good GMs assemble contenders.
Mike wrote earlier this week about the Wizards needing to make a big splash. He's absolutely right and dipping their toe in the water won't cut it. Grunfeld may have contacted the Nuggets about Carmelo Anthony during the Melodrama, but Mike isn't talking about this kind of effort:
"I can only speak on my situation," Anthony said. "The Wizards was never a team that came up, in any scenarios, through that whole situation."
The timing wasn't right then for a serious push. The Wizards lacked both the trade assets and the talent to acquire or attract a marquee player. With their backcourt of the future in place and a comparatively deep playoff run in the books, Grunfeld has the foundation and the momentum to quest for a transformative element.
In the end, Grunfeld will do what Ted Leonsis tells him to do. That's why I'm issuing a request: Turn him loose, Ted. You retained him when you took over, you re-signed him. Part ways if you don't believe in him. But this guy has survived a long time trying to build a year-in/year-out contender. Empower him to go after big names, or sign someone you believe can do that better.
...at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Not the ending you were expecting, I know. But in a way, Grunfeld is #SoWizards as they come. I mean, an executive who is recused from his official duties in one of the most iconic franchises in the world a few games before they go on a Cinderella Finals run? Who gets recognition and a massive contract while rapidly orchestrating the Big 3 era, then watches it burn to the ground in a miasma of injuries, firearms and feces-filled footwear?
I may not ever be an Grunfeld fan. But if this is your guy, Ted? Let him off the chain. Get the Wizards on the radar for max free agents. If things fall through this offseason, there's always 2016. Let your front man front.