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.