The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner first broke the news early Thursday morning that the Washington Wizards extended Ernie Grunfeld’s contract for another year in what was a hush-hush deal kept quiet from everyone outside of the organization.
Ben Standig of The Sports Capitol confirmed this report and also added that: “The deal was done before the calendar flipped to 2018.” The timing of the extension is extremely suspicious considering that the Wizards spent most of December hovering around .500 before going on a mini-run to end the month. But are we surprised that Grunfeld was extended for yet another year? He’s the only executive in the league who’s been in his current position for over 15 years who hasn’t won a championship or even made a conference finals appearance during his tenure.
Ted Leonsis declined to comment on Grunfeld’s reported extension, but his decision to stick with the current front office sends a crystal clear message that he’s satisfied with the current direction of the team.
Ever since he bought a majority stake in the team back in 2010 from the Pollin family, he’s talked about the importance of consistency and stability. Now he’s doubling down on that strategy. Though the Wizards might not make the same knee-jerk reactions that plague some other teams, they often wait far too long to make changes. For instance, Randy Wittman could have been let go in 2014 when it became clear he wasn’t going to maximize the offensive potential of his roster, but instead, they chose to wait until they missed the postseason altogether in 2016 before making a change.
The Wizards seem to be stuck in another rut now. They’re set to be in the playoff hunt for the foreseeable future, but they have the fifth-largest payroll in the NBA and they will be paying millions of dollars in luxury tax payments for a team that finished just four games over .500 for the season. With their core locked in on max deals and with John Wall’s supermax deal set to kick in starting in next summer, the Wizards are well on their way to paying repeater tax penalties in the future for a core that has failed to finish better than fourth in the Eastern Conference.
This raises an eyebrow as one would think ownership would be more eager to make big changes to get more out of how much they’ve invested in the team. It’s even more confusing when you consider the Wizards reportedly lost money last season despite putting together their best season in recent memory.
Even if you want to dispute the accounting on the Wizards’ profitability last season, there’s no question the Wizards are in a good position to make money moving forward. Their new local television deal with NBC Washington is now in effect, they’re starting to get new money from the lucrative naming rights deal they signed with Capital One last summer, and they’re one of only ten teams that has yet to sign a jersey sponsorship deal. With all of this new money pouring in, they don’t need to put together a better team to make money. The only thing that will push the Wizards to be better is a desire to get off the treadmill of mediocrity.
While it’s clear the Wizards won’t make changes in the front office this summer, there are still ways they can make positive changes if winning a championship is truly their “first and only priority.” All they have to do is look at what the team that knocked them out of the playoffs did to get out of their rut. Yes, the Raptors are currently down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals but they followed the right blueprint on how to change the culture and get the most out of what they have. That’s more than what the Wizards can say right now.
Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri (along with the fans and the rest of the front office) were fed up with their team’s annual early exits from the playoffs. But rather than chop up their All-Star backcourt in hopes of receiving a return package of greater or equal value, they went a different route. They put together a clear vision on how to get the most of their roster, got their stars to buy in, and it paved the way for a franchise-record 59 win season.
They also got there because player development is something they take seriously, not just something they talk about. They’ve poured money into resources that don’t show up on the salary cap like coaching, scouting, and their successful G-League affiliate, which helped develop some of their key bench players like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl. They maintained their focus on the draft and built a team stockpiled with cheap, young talent. The Raptors only have five players on the roster that make at least $3 million dollars annually. Washington has nine.
The window of opportunity in the NBA doesn’t stay open for long and feels all but shut for Washington with this iteration of the team unless they can make some serious changes. Until the Wizards get sick of tired of just being ‘relevant’ while running on the treadmill of mediocrity and make the necessary changes to get off of it, we shouldn’t expect much to change on the court.