Wizards owner Ted Leonsis fired Ernie Grunfeld with about a week left of the regular season because he wanted to get a head start on finding a long-term replacement.
It’s been almost two months since Grunfeld was let go, and the Wizards remain with a vacant chair in the general manager’s office.
Known for this patience — it took Leonsis nine years to fire Grunfeld despite the team missing the playoffs five times in that span and never winning 50 games — Leonsis was reportedly considered an appealing owner to work for around the league.
In a short time, Leonsis re-branded the Wizards, bringing back the old red-white-blue theme, developed a state of the art practice facility, and finally got the team its own G-League franchise. To Leonsis, the Wizards’ GM job is the best opening in sports. Leonsis wasn’t anticipating any issues finding a top-notch NBA executive to replace Grunfeld.
Yet, here we are.
It’s difficult to say that “something went wrong” between April 2 to now, because there’s nothing to point to, but it’s also tough to pretend that things are going according to plan for the Wizards — because, well, here’s what’s transpired:
The Wizards thought they had Nuggets President Tim Connelly in the bag. He was one of the first names linked to the Wizards after Grunfeld’s firing. He has serious ties to the city and worked for the Wizards before climbing the ranks and becoming Denver’s head man. The team waited ... and waited ... until the Nuggets were finally sent home from the playoffs.
Weeks after interviewing Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver — the Wizards were finally going to get a chance to convince their guy to come back home.
And it flopped. He declined the team’s offer, assured the Nuggets that he’ll be sticking around Denver — and the Wizards didn’t have a Plan B.
Leonsis was patient. The team was content waiting for the Nuggets’ elimination before starting a conversation with Connelly — but the patience backfired, just as Leonsis’ patience throughout his nine years as the team’s owner hasn’t exactly worked out.
There’s no need to rehash why (the Jan Vesely pick, extending Andray Blatche only to waive him, the Ian Mahinmi contract, the Jason Smith contract, the Bojan Bogdanovic trade, sorry) but Grunfeld probably should’ve been canned a long time ago. He overstayed his welcome because Leonsis was too patient.
Leonsis relied on continuity, when the only consistent part of the organization was its inconsistency. Leonsis disregarded reality — what was right in front of his eyes, quite literally — and allowed Grunfeld to trade pick after pick, sign bad player after bad player, clean up his own mistake by trading more picks, until the organization was left in the state it’s currently in — a state that, as we’ve come to learn, isn’t all too appealing to the top executives as Leonsis originally thought.
Leonsis told reporters that he was “cognizant” of the calendar — acknowledging that by firing Grunfeld, the team and the search firm Leonsis hired would get the ball rolling on finding a replacement. It’s been two months and the remaining candidates are, some would say, rather uninspiring.
Leonsis hasn’t done this before. This is the first time he’s gotten rid of a top executive with the Wizards, and when he fired the Capitals’ General Manager, he hired from within. So maybe this process hasn’t panned out for Leonsis. Maybe he shouldn’t have waited for other executives — like David Griffin, Trajan Langdon and Gersson Rosas — to find other jobs, knowing that they would make excellent candidates and would’ve satisfied the fan base just as much, if not more, than Connelly.
Perhaps by waiting to fire Grunfeld — by allowing him to burn the franchise to the ground, trade all of its assets, and sign players to team-crippling contracts — and giving him the opportunity to put the Wizards in a position that causes top executives like Connelly to shudder, Leonsis has effectively removed the Wizards from a position where the team is enticing to basketball’s top talent, including its executives.
The days will continue to come and go — and the more the Wizards wait, the less chance they will have to give the eventual replacement time to get familiar with the organization and what needs to be done to correct the state of misery it’s currently in. Because before you know it, it’ll be time for the Wizards to make their pick — the highest one they’ve had since Grunfeld picked Otto Porter Jr. third overall — and having an interim GM make the selection is less than ideal.