Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grading Grunfeld

The Washington Bullets lost 56 games last year. At 3-38, they were one of the worst road teams in the history of the NBA. Ernie Grunfeld is doing a bang up job.  I am not being sarcastic.

With every sports franchise that is not a championship contender, difficult decisions have to be made.  The Bullets invested a great deal of money in Gilbert Arenas and built a team around him.  They surrounded him with talented complementary players like Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, Deshawn Stevenson, Nick Young, and Andray Blatche.  Injuries and an idiotic response to a gambling debt ruined three of those seasons.

Grunfeld was faced with a situation that no General Manager would like to have.  An inflated payroll for an underperforming team.  Big contracts as far as the eye can see and a chronically injured superstar whose best years were behind him.  The roster was a sinking ship.  Rather than attempting to rearrange deck chairs on this Titanic, Grunfeld opted to do the responsible thing and blow the team up.  Blow it up he did.  The Bullets' roster looked like a trailer for a Michael Bay movie.  Butler's contract, gone!  Jamison' contract, gone!  Haywood's contract, gone!  Stevenson's contract, gone!  No one thought that moving Arenas' $80 million contract after the gun incident would be possible.  P.T. Barnum did say that an Otis Smith is born every minute.  Has Gilbert Arenas convinced Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando yet?

By a miracle, they landed the number one overall pick, and wisely chose John Wall.  That same year Chicago literally gave them Kirk Hinrich and their first round pick to clear up cap space for Lebron James, err, I mean Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver.  Perhaps more important than Hinrich's mentoring of John Wall (or the development of Kevin Seraphin) was what the Bullets were able to do with his contract.  Grunfeld flipped Hinrich for Mike Bibby and that kid who banged on Lebron James at the Nike Skills Academy.  This move ultimately saved them about $7 million when Mike Bibby opted out of his final year to chase a ring with Miami.

John Wall is the real deal, folks.  But for the fact that Blake Griffin (who really wasn't a rookie, but that's another discussion) had such an amazing season, the Great Wall of Chinatown would have run away with Rookie of the Year honors.  He's the youngest NBA player to post a triple double and the only other guys to average 16 and 8 their rookie season were Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, and Oscar Robertson.  Not bad company to keep.

Grunfeld now has to build a team around him.  Sometimes the moves that one doesn't make are as important as the ones that they do make.  In the last two years, the Bullets have shed 100's of millions of dollars in payroll and have gotten much younger in the process.  They have drafted well and resisted the temptation to sign an overpriced veteran.  Javale McGee could be a solid center for years to come.  First round draft pick Jan Vesely has a lot of potential.  Jordan Crawford could develop into a dangerous scorer.  Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack were great in college and could become solid contributors in the NBA.  The move to keep Rashard Lewis for one more year is a wise one.  Without his contract, the Wizards would be forced to sign another player to meet the new minimum salary cap requirements.  By all accounts, Lewis is a great mentor to his numerous young teammates.  If they use the amnesty clause on him next year, they will have boatloads of money to spend in free agency and a draft class that is loaded with blue chip players.

In all likelihood, the Bullets will not make the Playoffs this year and will trip up like all young teams do.  Expect plenty of stupid fouls, bad shots, turnovers, and blown leads.  These things are to be expected when you rebuild and have a team full of 21 year old kids learning how to play at the professional level. I hope that Grunfeld stays the course this year and makes some moves next year.  Keep it up, Ernie. You're doing a bang up job.


  1. Ohhhhhhhh, Jimmy Hoops: "Keep it up, Ernie. You're doing a bang up job." That was a mere month ago, and before the lock-out-delayed season had begun. But do you stand by that? Ernie should, should he not, be gone - should have been gone before Flip got tossed under the bus, should go along with his ridiculous progeny - Andray, Nick, and JaVale. (Post says Ernie is prepared to match whatever offer sheet JaVale receives in the market, which DeAndre Jordan (!!!!!!) set at $43 million for 4 years, in return for 7 points and 7 boards a game. Augh! AUUUUGGGGGHHHHH! I'm afraid I agree with that tedious Jason Reid - Ted needs to clean house. (John Wall is a baller: keep him.) They have the lowest basketball IQ in the league. They're clowns in gorgeous uniforms (yeah: love the new home and aways). They need to go.

    1. Ha! It's hard to defend the Wizards these days, Paul. They have got to be one of the worst, most undisciplined, collectively selfish NBA team I've ever seen. My biggest beef with Ernie these days would be for investing in Blatche 2 years ago. That guy is a locker room cancer and adds nothing to this team outside of some occasionally good numbers. I've heard many times that Grunfeld is constantly trying to trade Blatche to no avail but, in the end, that's his own fault. I'm thrilled that he didn't offer Nick Young more than a one year deal. He'll probably be gone next year. Good riddance. Jordan Crawford doesn't impress me either. He will most likely not be back next season. All of the other guys (outside of Lewis who will be amnestied next year) aren't getting paid much and will most likely be gone next year.

      The JaVale contract talks are news to me. I was (still kind of am) a huge fan of McGee but it really seems like this guy does not understand how to play the position. Maybe he never will. This was supposed to be his breakout year and to say that I'm underwhelmed would be quite an understatement. I'd hate to see him go for nothing but it's hard to justify paying him a lot of money based on his body of work. I still have faith in Wall but he really looks lost out there at times. I know there was very little practice/training camp this year and he has a bunch of YMCA flunkies to pass the ball to but man alive! It seems like the kid turns the ball over every other possession. Hopefully the Wiz can get a more creative, offensive-minded coach and a veteran guard in there to help his development.

      I've never been a fan of Flip Saunders. He's not a great coach in my opinion. When everyone talks about Flip, they say that he makes good teams better. Getting him made sense when the Wizards were team with 3 All-Stars trying to make that next step. When the Wizards decided to blow the team up and rebuild, I'm not sure why they kept him around. This obviously is not the gig he signed up for and the guy seemed absolutely miserable on the sidelines. In no way do I blame this debacle of a season on him, but the move to keep him was strange to me.

      Thanks for the feedback, Paul. I look forward to your takes as the season goes on.

  2. You've made good sense of the Wizards, Jimmy Hoops. Son David is also very high on JaVale, whose upside, he believes, is formidable. And I suppose it is: you can't teach 7'0" and all that athleticism, and he comes from a solid home, which is probably easy to overrate, especially as his mother sees him as a consistent first option and isn't shy about saying so. Apart from his persistent desire for highlight credits, which is indeed a form of jackassery, JaVale doesn't seem a complete knucklehead in interviews and is probably a decent kid. Can't say as much for Young and Blatche, however, both of whom, for a long list of reasons, must go. I can't see Wizards getting anything for either guy; okay, maybe a low pick for Blatche, and Ted will wind up paying a large percentage of his salary. He might stand up as 6 or 7 on a veteran team that stayed on his ass and challenged his manhood, but I fear he's just not a "character guy," and what we see now is what he'll always be: a physically talented asshole with a lousy attitude and work ethic. Frankly, I cannot imagine what this team will look like when camp opens next year. Ted (and Ernie, if he's still around) will ask Wall and McGee to please step into the hall and just hose the rest of those guys right out the locker room. Then it's start over, yet again.

  3. Thanks, Paul. You're right about Javale. McGee is a likable kid but I am not convinced that he will become that All-Star caliber center that David and I hope he may become. I remember shouting from the rooftops about how Kwame Brown was going to be a bust after year 2. Everybody kept telling me that it takes 3-4 years for NBA big men to develop. That's usually the case for big men not named Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncah, or Blake Griffin. This is year 3 and he doesn't look a heck of a lot better. By all accounts, he is a hard-working coachable kid. Maybe he'll take a big step forward next year. Maybe he won't. Will the Wiz have invested a bunch of money in him before then? That is the 40 some odd million dollar question.

    I have a different beef with Young. The guy's a very talented scorer. He also seems to be a pretty good teammate and genuinely wants to play in DC. In my opinion, he simply doesn't deserve starter money. All he does is shoot. Perhaps he would make a great 6th man on a good team. What Ben Gordon was to the Bulls or Sam Cassell was for the Celtics could be a good role for him. The guy is 6'7" and doesn't rebound, block shots, play defense, or pass well at all. All he does is shoot fadeaways and occasionally make unbelievably tough 360 degree layups. When he gets going, he's unstoppable. When he doesn't, he's just taking up space. The Wiz need a starting 5 before they can even consider developing the bench.

    Blatche is such a disappointment and, as I said earlier, one of Grunfeld's most egregious errors in judgement. Every time this guy opens his mouth his stock plummets. I really thought they could move him last year but the guy just kept making himself look like more and more of an asshole every week. If any team offered Grunfeld anything for him, there's no doubt in my mind that he'd already be gone. He has all the talent and skill to be one hell of a player. He has a similar set of skills as Lamar Odom but, as you mentioned, does not have anywhere near the work ethic or team-first attitude.

    You summed it up in your last sentence, Paul. The Wiz are going to build around Wall and McGee and most likely nobody else on this current roster. Watching the two of them play this year doesn't fill me with tons of optimism.