The Wizards will fall short of expectations for the second straight season, which could mean big changes for the front office this summer. Although no one’s fate has been decided yet, it looks like Celtics’ assistant GM Mike Zarren could be a frontrunner to be the Wizards’ new top executive if Washington goes in a new direction, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Zarren’s name has surfaced as a potential target for the Pelicans and for Washington if the Wizards’ owner, Ted Leonsis, responds to his team’s unsightly (and, to be fair, injury-filled) 30-44 campaign with the management shake-up he has long resisted. Ernie Grunfeld was installed as Washington’s president of basketball operations in June 2003.
Zarren has been with the Celtics for over a decade and is well-regarded for his work with cap management and analytics. In 2017, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN reported Zarren was “the leading vote-getter by a wide margin” in a poll of league insiders for the best candidate to be a future GM. He was a leading contender for the 76ers job last summer. He was also a candidate for the Pistons job in 2015 and the 76ers job back in 2012 (which he reportedly turned down).
If the Wizards pursue Zarren, they’ll have to compete with the Pelicans and Suns, who have already parted ways with their general managers in recent months, plus any other teams who go in a new direction after the season. They’ll also have to compete with the Celtics, who surely want to keep the Zarren around as Danny Ainge’s heir apparent.
Washington has drawbacks they must overcome when it comes to recruiting a new top executive. John Wall’s supermax contract and Achilles injury will make it hard for Washington to make a drastic overhaul right away. Bradley Beal’s potential eligibility for a supermax extension of his own could throw another costly twist into potential plans. The Wizards are also low on young talent and future draft picks. Troy Brown Jr. is the only first round pick they have left from their last six drafts and they’ve traded away their second round picks in each of the next five drafts.
On the other hand, Ted Leonsis has proven with the Wizards and the Capitals he’s willing to be more patient than most owners with their top execs. That could be a major selling point, especially in comparison with the Suns who have dealt with significant turnover in recent years — including the tenure of Zarren’s former co-worker Ryan McDonough — and the Pelicans, who are in a unique position with Anthony Davis’ trade request and franchise’s unique setup where Mickey Loomis oversees both the Pelicans and the Saints.
Still, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Wizards can’t go out and court new candidates until after they make a final decision on Grunfeld’s future. Washington is on track to miss the playoffs for the eighth time since he joined took over in 2003. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s finally the impetus for change or if he’ll get another chance to turn things around.