Judging by the thousands of responses flooding social media — and the lack of even a single “you will be missed” message — Washington Wizards fans experienced a second birthday on Tuesday afternoon after it was announced that Ernie Grunfeld was relieved of his duties as president of the team.
There’s no secret that this is exactly what Wizards fans wanted. They made it clear from the daily disgruntled tweets sent to owner Ted Leonsis and made their voices heard by declining to renew their season tickets unless Grunfeld was given the boot.
The high will last a while — and it should.
For 16 years, Wizards fans were never given a consistent product. They were left with a whopping 724 losses under Grunfeld — without even one 50-win season, an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals or an exciting free agent get worth writing home about.
An easy argument could’ve been made for Grunfeld’s dismissal years ago, so when put into context, telling him to pack his bags after yet another playoff-less season should’ve been an easy decision for Leonsis.
Now the hard part begins.
Perhaps more than any other season prior, it was immediately clear the Wizards were operating without a vision. They had a directive — win 50 games. And when that fell through, Leonsis softened the goal, demanding the team just make the playoffs.
So when the team failed to make the playoffs — which would’ve resulted in a four-game trouncing from the Milwaukee Bucks — Leonsis considered it the final straw.
But a team — or at least a successful one — needs more than just simple directives. It needs a long-term vision — something the fans can cling onto when the losses pile up, even if it takes years to achieve.
Not a day has lapsed and several names have already been rumored to potentially be the one to implement the new vision.
As of Tuesday night, the Wizards have been linked to several interesting names, including Denver Nuggets President Tim Connelly, who used to work under Grunfeld in Washington. Connelly, a Baltimore native, replaced well-respective executive Masai Ujiri in Denver after he joined the Toronto Raptors. He rebuilt the Nuggets into a team competing for the first seed in the loaded Western Conference thanks to some smart draft picks like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris.
A source close to the Nuggets president wasn’t sure if he would seriously consider leaving Denver for a homecoming in D.C., especially since he signed an extension with the team a few months ago. However, as the source noted — “you never know.”
Wizards Senior Vice President of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard has also been linked to the job. Sheppard spent 14 years working under Grunfeld, earning the respect of other executives around the NBA. Concerns about whether promoting Sheppard would constitute a “real change” have already been voiced by fans, but a former Wizards staffer, like others, gave Sheppard a ringing endorsement, calling him an “independent thinker.”
Leonsis, too, confirmed that Sheppard will be strongly considered for the job during a media scrum following the news of Grunfeld’s firing. Celtics assistant Mike Zarren has also been rumored to be a target.
Ultimately, whoever Leonsis ends up choosing will inherit a full plate. There’s a mess of a salary cap situation to deal with, a star player making super-max money sitting at home with a torn Achilles and a pending lottery pick to make.
On top of all the basketball-related puzzles, the eventual general manager will have to restore hope in a fanbase that’s been marinating in misery for years.
For the first time since buying the Wizards in 2010, Leonsis won’t have Grunfeld to consult — and the decision he’ll be making alone is a lot bigger than an in-season trade or free agency signing. It’s one that can either steer the Wizards in the right direction or propel them even further into basketball purgatory.
And in due time, Leonsis won’t have anyone else but himself to blame or praise, because the decision — the hard part — is all his to make.