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In Keeping Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards Pass On Opportunity To Consider Starting Fresh

Rafael Suanes-US PRESSWIRE
Rafael Suanes-US PRESSWIRE

I can't definitively tell you whether Ernie Grunfeld will build a championship-caliber team around John Wall in Washington, D.C. now that he's reportedly receiving a new contract. It's impossible to predict. General managers get evaluated over many years, and one can point to so many examples in so many sports of leaders who have been perceived differently by the public depending on the year. One's past helps paint a picture, but in this case especially, it's tough because the mandate from above has been so different.

Point being: keeping Grunfeld for multiple years past this one could work out. He certainly has created the kind of flexibility to make this team better, and you could reason it's precisely that quality that merits him keeping the job. Even looking at his pre-Ted Leonsis past really shouldn't act as a crystal ball. It could work out that way again, or it could be that he learned from his mistakes.

What concerns me more is the process by which Leonsis and the Wizards made this decision.

Regardless of how well Grunfeld may have done in the past two years, this was a chance for the Wizards to start fresh. The Wizards have some young talent, a superstar-quality player and enough cap space in the summer to make some sort of free-agent splash, even if not for a max-contract player. It could have still fit "The Plan" just fine, since now is the time when the push towards contention needed to begin.

Instead, it appears Leonsis made his mind up to bring Grunfeld back a while ago. Via Michael Lee's report.

According to multiple league sources, Leonsis in recent weeks has refused to correspond with agents representing prospective Wizards’ general managers interested in replacing Grunfeld. The team’s owner since the spring of 2010, Leonsis negotiated only with Grunfeld.

In retrospect, the decision to take on the last four years of Nene's contract at the deadline was a sign. Another one: as Lee reported, Grunfeld attended the NBA Board of Governors meeting instead of Leonsis. It seems pretty clear that the plan for several weeks was for Grunfeld to come back next season and beyond.

Like I wrote at the top, it could work out. We don't know. But what continues to confuse me is that Leonsis and the Wizards didn't even interview other candidates. The Wizards are a Rashard Lewis buyout and an Andray Blatche amnesty exile from clearing out all the rift-raft that was in place when Leonsis took over the franchise. The job will soon shift from re-building to building, which is a completely different animal. There's a reason so many executives have been quoted in so many stories suggesting the job would be open. This was the perfect time to consider a fresh start, and with Grunfeld coming up on the last year of his contract, Leonsis didn't even need to fire him.

Instead, Leonsis and the Wizards chose continuity.

I'd feel a little better about the Wizards' decision if they went through the hiring process and then decided Grunfeld was the best fit for the job. Interviewing isn't the same as hiring. If there were candidates interested in the position, it really doesn't hurt much to hear them out. Maybe they demonstrate great enthusiasm for the position and a great plan for the future. Maybe a high-profile, well-regarded former GM with a ton of experience reaches out. Maybe a hotshot assistant gets an in and all his references paint him in high regard. Or, maybe the process happens, and it turns out that Grunfeld is a more impressive candidate then all of them. All of these are possible outcomes that result when you consider other voices. I'm not sure why Leonsis, who has always been deferential to his general manager's expertise whether it's the Wizards or Capitals, didn't at least see how outsiders viewed the roster.

Instead, he clearly valued continuity and loyalty over starting fresh. That's not a huge surprise given Leonsis' history with the Capitals, but regardless of how Grunfeld does in the future, this still feels like a missed opportunity to re-asses things.