Ernie Grunfeld was hated by Wizards fans for making poor salary decisions. But to players, especially star players, he was a very accommodating President of Basketball Operations — to a fault.
On Monday, Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote a detailed column on the Wizards’ team culture during the Grunfeld Era from 2003-19. Over those 16 years, he was viewed as a players-first front office executive. But he was also viewed as a pushover because star players often were able to break rules and get away with them. Multiple former players indicated these types of things happened regularly like former center Brendan Haywood.
Regardless of whether the late Abe Pollin or Ted Leonsis owned the team, Grunfeld ran the Wizards in a similar fashion where he encouraged players to have freedom. Buckner also noted that Grunfeld went to improve locker room accommodations for players which were appreciated but not enough to bring in superstars via free agency.
Though some veterans in the past like Paul Pierce were able to create a culture of accountability, that didn’t stick when they left.
Many Wizards fans view team owner Ted Leonsis as a bad owner. This is because they assume he cares more about other teams, especially the Capitals and even the Mystics in recent months. At first glance, it sometimes feels that way. The Capitals are just one year removed from winning the Stanley Cup. The Mystics are coming off a 2018 WNBA Finals appearance.
But among NBA circles, Leonsis is viewed as a good team owner and the current job search process indicates that. If there is a fault, Leonsis may not be directly involved enough in trying to bring superstar free agents in the summer. According to Buckner, Leonsis did not attend a meeting with Al Horford in the 2016 free agency period though members of the front office did.
The new President of Basketball Operations or General Manager, whatever his or her title is, will have many challenges. Washington has certainly hired authoritarian-type head coaches before like Randy Wittman. But it’s apparent that Grunfeld’s successor must be that way as well and be a bit more detached from the team than he was.