Washington Wizards: Has Ernie Grunfeld Made the Right Moves to Improve the Team?
Grunfeld maintains that there is enough depth behind Wall to provide adequate cover (via ESPN.com) but that doesn't change the fact that the Wizards are now being written out of playoff contention.
It's fair to say that Grunfeld is not the most popular man in Washington. However, he will be unconcerned with popularity. His job is to do what he thinks is best for the team and get them back to the playoffs.
Let's take a lot at the decisions made by Grunfeld to prepare the team for the 2012-13 season.
At the trade deadline, the Wizards made a move that signaled their intent for the coming season. In bringing Nene to Washington—ridding themselves of Nick Young and JaVale McGee in the process—the front office made a statement: they wanted to win now.
The previous plan was to build through the draft and emphasize youth, resulting in a long-term gain. While that has always been the most successful way to craft a winning team, there were too many links to the Gilbert Arenas era of the Wizards to make it work in Washington.
A reshuffle was needed, and bringing Nene to the team enabled two things to happen. Firstly, the locker room was rid of players more concerned with highlights than wins. Secondly, a veteran leader like Nene could only have a good influence on Wall, the team's prized asset.
The results showed instantly. Following his arrival, the Wizards went 7-4 with Nene on the court and 3-8 without him. Even more tellingly, of those four games they lost, the Wizards blew second-half double-digit leads in three of them.
The discipline wasn't quite there, but it was easy to see what they had been missing. Nene set great screens for Wall and gave the team a veteran presence that they desperately needed. Rashard Lewis didn't count, in case you were wondering.
Even though Nene's contract isn't something that reflects his current worth, his effect on the rest of the roster justifies the trade.
This set the tone for the rest of the trade moves. Although the on-court value for money was low, the additions of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor were high-character moves that can only benefit the young roster. Offloading Lewis' static bench presence in exchange should only be congratulated.
The additional implication of Nene, Ariza and Okafor's contracts comes in the form of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Although the three are slated to make a total of $34 million next year, the new CBA dictates that teams have to spend a minimum of 85 percent of the salary cap for the first two years of the agreement, moving to 90 percent after that (via The Washington Post).
The Wizards would have had to spend the money anyway, so they went for proven NBA performers with real contributions to make.
The emphasis on defense that Ariza and Okafor bring is another sign that Grunfeld is sick of being in the lottery every year. The Wizards conceded 98.4 points per game last year, which isn't going to drag them out of the cellar, despite it being a six-point improvement on 2010.
Although it breaks from the draft-first mentality that both Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis have preached over the last few years, the Wizards made smart choices to offload dead weight in favor of team players.
The moves for Nene, Ariza and Okafor took away a lot of the Wizards' free-agency clout, but that was the decision Grunfeld felt needed to be made.
Young and McGee had no place in Washington any longer and their presence was detrimental to the team's development. Lewis was making no contribution and his contract was insane, so making the trades Grunfeld did was actually the smart thing to do.
One option remained to free up cap space, which was to use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche. Blatche was the one remaining player from the Arenas days and had already been shut down, so the move came as no surprise.
When speaking to The Washington Post, Grunfeld was pragmatic about the decision:
"Andray did not figure into our future plans, and using the amnesty provision is a mutually beneficial opportunity for us to part ways."
"We will be able to continue to develop our core group of young players, blend in the solid veterans we have acquired and maintain financial flexibility while Andray will be able to get a fresh start with another team. We wish him the best moving forward."
The departure of Blatche led to Cartier Martin being retained after a solid contribution. Swingman Martell Webster joined the team and guard A.J. Price also made the move to Washington.
Price and Shelvin Mack now have a heavier burden due to Wall’s injury, but it’s unlikely that Grunfeld continues with them alone. Wizards blog BulletsForever.com listed four alternatives to fill in for Wall, of whom Tracy McGrady and Shaun Livingston were the best options.
McGrady could feasibly do a job for the Wizards and allow Bradley Beal to develop under his solid passing game in Wall’s absence. The problem McGrady presents is his injury history, which could dissuade Grunfeld from bringing him in.
McGrady has reportedly worked out for the Bulls, Knicks and Spurs already this offseason, so there must be something keeping those teams from offering a deal. He hasn’t averaged double-digit points since his knee surgery, though, when he previously bettered 20 points per game for eight years running.
If it turns out he is surplus to requirements in Houston, Livingston may prove to be the better option. He’s versatile enough to provide cover for Wall, as well as offering a good defensive skill set.
When the Wizards were given the third overall selection in the NBA Draft Lottery, it was touted as a certainty that they would pick Bradley Beal. Grunfeld showed no desire to disappoint and the 19-year-old became a Wizard.
Lots has been written about Beal and his potential, but it’s unreasonable to expect too much out of him in his rookie year. He played just one season of college ball, so there will be a transition period needed before he can be judged as an NBA player.
Also, Jordan Crawford will likely remain the Wizards’ starter at shooting guard, which again epitomizes the new-look Wizards team.
As evidenced by their poor production and conditioning, the trio of JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche suffered from a sense of entitlement, with starting jobs being handed to them despite poor performances and a lack of teamwork.
Beal seems much more grounded already, but it’s important that he is made to work for his court time, just as it’s important that Crawford knows he can still be the starter. It’s clear that Beal was drafted to start in the long term, but this is an opportunity for Crawford to stake his claim for 2012.
Beal’s game isn’t fully developed yet, so good performances from Crawford will help both him and the team. The drafting of Beal cannot be faulted; he was the best player for the Wizards at that pick, as well as serving a positional need as the team continued to build around Wall.
The selection of Tomas Satoransky isn’t as obvious, however. In a deep draft where Doron Lamb and Jae Crowder were still available, the pick stuck out as a move to preserve a roster spot rather than bring in another rookie.
Satoransky himself stated that he isn't ready for the NBA (via ProBasketballTalk.com), and although he showed some promise in the Summer League and could feasibly contribute in a few years, the chance was there to take a genuine rookie contributor.
Without doing a disservice to Satoransky, Lamb or Crowder offered a better return for the pick and it now seems wasteful to stash the Czech player in Europe when the free-agency moves suggested a “win now” attitude.
After looking like a man committed to getting out of the cellar, the Satoransky choice was a step back for Grunfeld. Wall’s injury doesn’t write off the season, but it’s more than a "bump in the road."
The team now has to work even harder to stay relevant in Wall’s absence, and the fortune of Nene suddenly becomes utterly essential. The Brazilian isn’t exactly a vision of health, with fans already being warned that his progress will be slow.
Grunfeld has made a lot of encouraging moves this year and the roster actually looks better than it has in some time. Much like its counterparts at FedEx field, this Washington team suffers from a lack of depth and the burden of injury going into the new season.
It’s on the right track, but patience will be demanded at Verizon Center once again this year.