The Wizards are looking for their first President of Basketball Operations and General Manager for the first time since 2003. Ernie Grunfeld is no longer at the helm after Washington officially missed the 2019 NBA Playoffs which start later Saturday, April 13.
Since Grunfeld was shown the door, there is a lot of chatter that his successor could be like Brian MacLellan, the Capitals’ GM. Since he took over in 2014, MacLellan led the Capitals to sustained regular season success and the 2017-18 Stanley Cup. The Capitals are back in the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Playoffs where they once again have a great chance to repeat. Even team owner Ted Leonsis acknowledged the similarities the Wizards and Capitals have in regard to this process.
That said, the NHL and NBA are different leagues and not all parts of the ten-point plan can be implemented the same way. The late Flip Saunders noted that in 2012 in an interview with Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post.
Also, the Capitals aren’t the first team Leonsis made a change at General Manager. He did the same with the Mystics in 2015 when Mike Thibault replaced Trudi Lacey who led Washington to an 11-57 record in the 2011-12 seasons. At that time, the Mystics were the WNBA’s worst-run franchise. If you thought the Wizards were run poorly, the Mystics were run even worse.
I won’t go line by line on what the Mystics have done. So for that, I refer you to this column I wrote on Swish Appeal last summer which you can read below:
But there are also some similarities the Wizards share with the Mystics when they fired poorly-performing GM’s. Their teams were not perennial contenders. They were poor at drafting players. And they often prioritized veterans over youth exactly at times when they should have done the opposite.
Since the Mystics hired Thibault, the growth has been slow over six years. But the Mystics drafted players who fit their needs and those players all contributed as rotation-level players if not better. Young players whom he drafted were traded only for strategic reasons, when the team was in a position to take a major step forward.
The most notable example is when they acquired 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne in 2017 from the Chicago Sky in a trade that involved 2014 and 2016 first round picks Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper. Since 2017, the Mystics advanced to the WNBA semifinals each season and to the Finals last season. They aren’t the favorites for the 2019 WNBA championship, but it should shock no one if they win it all this fall.
But when it comes to a local team to emulate, the Mystics are honestly a better model for the Wizards to follow than the Capitals. They aren’t a “major league” sport and don’t have a nine-figure salary cap to worry about. But they play same sport and proved themselves on the court over the last several years. They are doing practically everything Wizards fans hoped Grunfeld would do.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to following a WNBA team’s lead when it comes to building an NBA team when it’s working. So embrace it.