To the Future General Manager of the Washington Wizards,
Welcome, and congratulations on getting this position! As you may have heard, your predecessor received a great deal of criticism during his time with this franchise. His 16 years at the helm were mired in modest success, always leaving the fan base looking for more. I certainly wish you the best with this position moving forward, but before you get to work, I think there are a few things that you can learn from Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure which will help you moving forward.
1. Establish an identity
When you go back and look at the game film for this team and look at the roster construction, what can you honestly say about how this team plays? For much of the past 16 years, the Wizards have lacked a true identity. Whether it was Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, or Bradley Beal leading the show, Washington never developed a consistent identity. They’ve spent most of the last 16 years trying to catch up with league trends and by the time they’ve caught up, innovators have already found a new trend to exploit.
You have to start out by helping this team understand what you want them to look like five years from now. Do you want a defensive team capable of handling modern NBA offenses like Utah and Milwaukee? Do you want a team with great fundamentals and high basketball IQ like Denver or Brooklyn? Develop a vision, and then find the right players to make it happen.
2. Value the Draft
If you polled the fan base, I can almost bet you a majority of this fan base will say that Grunfield was not particularly great at handling the NBA draft. Maybe it was drafting a player like Oleksiy Pecherov over future All-Stars like Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry. Or maybe it was trading away the fifth overall pick — one that could have been used to select arguably the greatest shooter in league history Stephen Curry – for two role players on expiring contracts who did nothing to improve the team. Or maybe it was having two top-20 picks in the 2011 draft who were both out of the league after three seasons. Or maybe it was how only they only had three second round picks (Andray Blatche, Dominic McGuire, and Tomas Satoransky) play more than two seasons in Washington.
No matter what fans point to, it hasn’t been good. First and second round picks have either been sold or used to stash players who don’t pan out. Washington can’t afford to do that anymore with their cap situation and John Wall’s injury issues. Considering the team doesn’t have a second round pick until 2023, Washington should be aggressive looking at ways to acquire draft picks, either through buying second round picks, or leveraging current assets to pull in young talent.
3. Hold Players Accountable
Have you ever had a player who couldn’t play because he was not in shape? Have you ever had star players who were not responding to their coach? Well, this team has had these issues throughout the past 16 years. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand that this is a players’ league and that they ultimately have a lot of control, but we have seen some ugly situations throughout the league where superstar players have challenged their coaches. When those situations happen, what will you do?
At times, the Wizards have stood with their coaches, but not enough. The teams that have had the most success, especially in recent years, seem to almost always backup their coach and will go as far as disciplining the player if he goes too far and they are consistent about it. Teams like the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics have no problem sitting players down, punishing players or even getting rid of them if they challenge the coaches or the culture that exist there. This team needs that. Players need to understand what is expected of them. That is what builds team culture and helps players to buy in.
4. Washington loves basketball, give the city hope
Don’t let the empty stadiums and the chants of opposing teams fool you, D.C. loves basketball. This region has a rich basketball history. You can point to Hall of Fame coaches like Lefty Driesell, Gary Williams and John Thompson at the college level. And of course the great Morgan Wootten at the high school level.
Countless NBA players hail from the area as well like Grant Hill, Kevin Durant, Steve Francis, and Adrian Dantley just to name a few. D.C. has an amazing basketball culture, but it has lacked a consistent winner at the professional level for the longest time. We have generations of fans who have never seen this team play in a conference finals or win 50 games. As the new general manager, you have the opportunity to awaken perhaps the biggest sleeping giant in the NBA. This area has longed for a winner. Look at how we responded to the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup. If you are able to build that kind of success for basketball, you would be a legend in this area. This is your chance, it’s time to build a winner. Good luck!
PS: Please don’t forget cash considerations is a curse word in this town.