WUSA’s Mike Wise sat down with Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis earlier this week for a wide-ranging interview on sports gambling, what it was like to see the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, and various other topics.
But you’re not here for that. You’re here to read what he said about Ernie Grunfeld, who has been the Wizards’ head decision maker since 2003. It isn’t a ringing endorsement.
Leonsis also did not offer unequivocal support for team president Ernie Grunfeld going forward. When told he had become a target of the fan base for the team’s failings, Leonsis said, “That’s unfortunate, but I think the fans are appropriately upset with us because we didn’t meet any of our goals,” which included a 50-win season and getting to the Eastern Conference finals. Leonsis said he actually emailed Grunfeld recently before a game: “Hey, we can still meet our first goal,” it read. “We’ve got 24 wins. There are 26 games remaining. If we win out we can get to 50.” It’s unclear whether Grunfeld chuckled or not.
Asked if he was comfortable with Grunfeld running the team after this season, he added, “Let’s see how the season turns out. Every year you articulate what your goals are.”
If Grunfeld’s job depends on the Wizards reaching Leonsis’ goals, then his seat is extremely hot right now. As noted, Leonsis initially said the team should aim to win 50 games and make the Eastern Conference Finals. In January, he revised that down to just making the playoffs and doing better than last season.
It looks unlikely the Wizards will reach any of those goals. 50 wins is already off the table. The Wizards would need to go 20-2 the rest of the way to exceed last season’s win total. They’ll probably need to go at least 15-7 to get to 39 wins and have a chance at a playoff spot. In addition, it didn’t sound like Leonsis is allowing for any wiggle room due to the injuries John Wall and Dwight Howard suffered this season, so it could truly be a playoff or bust moment for Grunfeld.
If that’s the case, it begs the simple question of why? Washington is in a tough spot moving forward whether they finish 8th or 10th in final East standings. They have big money tied up in John Wall and Ian Mahinmi, who likely won’t contribute much next season, and outside of Bradley Beal, there are questions marks all over the roster with so many players heading into free agency. Washington will finally have resources to reshape their roster this summer, but their track record in free agency does not inspire much confidence.
Plus, if Leonsis is seriously considering a change, it’s better to move sooner than later. This is a key time for scouting the 2019 draft class and assessing potential free agents this summer. The more time they have to prepare, the better the chance they’ll be able to put Washington on a path to success.
Alas, it appears Leonsis will ride out the rest of the season before he decides on Grunfeld‘s fate. Regardless of the decision, it looks like the next 22 games will be crucial in shaping what’s next for the Wizards.