It is possible that George McPhee just may have saved our Washington Wizards. Here me out, and "real" Caps fans may be able to fill in some of the details of which I am admittedly ignorant.
For the sake of argument, let’s agree that the Wizards’ season, despite its ups and downs, was a success based on making and winning a series in the post season. With that statement in mind and knowing that it also met the owner’s definition of success, it’s surprising that Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman have not received new contracts. After all, Ted Leonsis is notoriously loyal and Toronto and Portland re-upped their coaches immediately after their elimination from the playoffs. In my mind, this fact raises the likelihood that Ted Leonsis is viewing the Wizards success through the prism of the underachieving Capitals and, by extension, the failure of George McPhee to build a team that was capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
Five years ago, the Caps were presumed to possess a nucleus of young talented players around which a championship caliber team could be created. The owner entrusted McPhee to establish a vision and assemble a team capable of carrying it out. The subsequent 4 years under McPhee’s guidance resulted in organizational stagnancy, regression, and, generally, a failure to meet reasonable expectations based on the collection of talent.
I am only a casual observer of the Caps, but the early success of the team hinged on the dominance of Ovechkin and Backstrom (and others I'm sure), two high draft picks that met expectations commensurate with their draft stature. It was McPhee’s responsibility to build a contender around those elite players. He failed, and Leonsis must consider why. From my limited knowledge, it seemed as if McPhee remained loyal to "his" guys and doled out big contracts to the wrong guys. He made panic trades and failed to identify and correct obvious weaknesses. In other words, Ted’s loyalty to McPhee was based largely on the modest success that resulted from happenstance – having high draft choices during the right years.
In many ways, this year’s Wizards are facing some of the same questions that the Capitals encountered 4 or 5 years ago, which should provide Leonsis with the foresight to replace Ernie Grunfeld. The Wizards possess a young, explosive and skilled backcourt from which it is easy to project future success based on this year’s performance. However, like McPhee, Ernie Grunfeld is the beneficiary of happenstance and not competence.
Ernie’s draft blunders are well documented and need not be rehashed. The Arenas and Jamison contracts are ancient history as well. So let’s look at recent moves that made little organizational sense or are emblematic of poor foresight. Several years ago, Andray Blatche, with all his baggage and poor work ethic, was given a new, huge contract before the conclusion of his existing contract. Leonsis is still paying for this one. Martell Webster was given the full mid-level exception after drafting Otto Porter and while Ariza was still under contract. This decision suggests that Ernie did not anticipate that Ariza was integral to the long-term success of the Wizards. Now, Ted faces the prospect of paying nearly 20 million/year for 3 small forwards, none of which have sniffed an all-star game. At 12:01 a.m. of the first day of free agency this past year, Grunfeld inked Eric Maynor to a 2 year deal to back up John Wall. Then, Kendall Marshall, who was acquired in the Gortat trade, was waived the day after he arrived. In order to atone for the Maynor/Marshall mistakes, Ernie had to trade, yes, Jan Vesely, the sixth overall pick, to get a 38 year old point guard. These are obvious mistakes that have put the Wizards on a personnel hamster wheel. They have improved as a franchise thanks to Wall and Beal, but it's hard to take steps towards a championship when the organization is constantly trying to correct previous errors.
Hopefully, George McPhee’s shortcomings as general manager will inform Ted Leonsis’s decision when considering whether to grant Ernie Grunfeld a contract extension. If he does, it is my belief that he has no other choice than to recognize that the Wizards’ recent success is the result of drafting position and not the Grunfeld’s ability to carry out a vision by making sound personnel decisions.