The Washington Wizards canned Ernie Grunfeld over a month ago. They’ve yet to hire a replacement.
Danny Ferry, a former Spurs, Cavaliers and Hawks executive, interviewed for the position twice — as did Troy Weaver, the Thunder’s vice president of basketball operations. Tommy Sheppard, who was considered Grunfeld’s right-hand man in Washington for the last 16 years, interviewed for the gig, too. Gersson Rosas was in consideration for the job, but was quickly scooped up by the Timberwolves.
Days have come and went, but the Wizards — presumably not wowed by any of the candidates, given the time that’s lapsed since the firing — continue to operate without a head executive.
Immediately after Grunfeld’s firing, national outlets reported about the attractiveness of Washington’s opening. Ted Leonsis’ likability as an owner (and his tendency to value continuity), along with the nation’s capital being a top market, was supposed to make the Wizards opening a coveted one.
But the Wizards already had their sights set on a particular candidate. Grunfeld’s firing was followed by a report suggesting Tim Connelly was the top candidate.
Forty-five days later, the two met in Washington.
With respect to the others who have been considered for the position — because they’re all qualified and experienced — Connelly is the only candidate who’s capable of rejuvenating the soul of the franchise. Leonsis and his adviser, Mike Ford, seem to understand that too — and that could be the reason the team has not extended an offer to any other candidate.
Connelly, only 42, worked for the Wizards in a front office capacity for years before taking over Masai Ujiri’s spot in Denver. Replacing Ujiri, who’s widely considered the best executive in basketball, was no easy task, yet he’s done more than just fill the role — he, himself, has become a top executive in the sport.
In just a few seasons, Connelly has gathered a collection of exciting, developing young players, highlighted by All-Star Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap.
Connelly’s tenure in Denver represents an antithesis of what Grunfeld became in Washington. He nailed international picks in Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic — he found cornerstone players outside of the top five selections in Murray and Harris. He convinced a former Hawk, Millsap, to join his young team (remember — there was a time when Al Horford preferred Washington’s talent.. wild finish).
Connelly is young, fresh — but full of experience and carries an impressive portfolio to boot. And if that wasn’t enough, he has strong ties to the region, being a DMV native.
Having thought of the position to be his “dream job,” the Wizards have to do whatever it takes to bring Connelly home — to allow him to fix the mess his predecessor created, and restore the greatness of the franchise he grew up watching — even if that means ponying up a couple more dollars.
Washington spent 16 years waiting for Grunfeld to get it right, and he obviously never did. They can’t afford to mess this hire up. They need to hit a home run — and Connelly is exactly that. Settling for another person, at this stage — after all the franchise has suffered through during the last regime — should not be an option.