Good news everyone, the Wizards no longer have one of the five worst decision makers in the NBA, according to ESPN's 2015 rankings of the league's top executives. Ernie Grunfeld finished 20th in this year's rankings, a noted improvement from last year, where he finished 26th.
The NBA executive rankings are part of a larger effort by ESPN Forecast to rank the front offices (owner, top executive(s) and coach) of all 30 NBA teams. Here's how the rankings for NBA executives were determined:
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's basketball decision-maker(s). In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's front-office management on its guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.
Certainly, last year's playoff run into the second round, the Wizards' most successful season in Grunfeld's tenure, helped the cause, but clearly, the ESPN Forecast panel isn't sold on the Wizards' potential for long-term success. Only two other teams in this year's playoff chase (the Pelicans and Clippers) have executives ranked lower than Grunfeld.
Given Grunfeld's track record as a key decision maker, the concern is understandable. As Grunfeld has shown throughout his career with the Knicks, Bucks and Wizards, he's very good at building a team from scratch and turning it into a playoff team, but he hasn't shown the ability to take those teams to the next level where they're title contenders.
The biggest issue Grunfeld's teams have run into while trying to make the shift from playoff contender to title contender has been capitalizing on the draft. Of the 11 draft picks the Wizards either drafted or acquired from 2010-2013, only two (John Wall and Bradley Beal) have started more than 10 games in the NBA this season, and six are currently out of the league.
Grunfeld deserves some credit for creatively leveraging cap space and draft picks in trades to acquire key role players like Nene, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, and finding useful players in the NBA's bargain bin, like Martell Webster, Garrett Temple and Drew Gooden. Unfortunately, his success in helping round out the team's bench can't mask all the team's deficiencies in selecting and developing young talent that would have put the team in a position to have a higher ceiling than reaching the second round this season.
This summer, Ernie Grunfeld's contract is set to expire (or at least we think it is). Purely from a win-loss standpoint, he's put himself in a position where the team is peaking at the right time to earn an extension and sell the hope that Kevin Durant and/or a new coach would move this team towards title contention. But as this ranking goes to show, there's still plenty of reasonable doubt as to whether or not Grunfeld is the right person to guide the Wizards to the next summit.