Ernie Grunfeld didn’t reveal anything new in Thursday’s press conference, just ask Michael Lee of the Post and Mike Jones of the Times, both alluding to the recycled themes we’ve heard for most of the summer.
But it’s been “one of the longest summers ever,” according to Grunfeld. He’s anxious to get the season started and have his “wait and see” mantra put to the test.
“I haven’t been this excited in a very long time because of the change that we have. There’s a different sense around here. There’s a different sense around the team. The players feel this new kinda of enthusiasm, there’s a new kind of professionalism, and just a new way of doing things. I think it’s exciting for us and exciting for the players.” -Ernie Grunfeld
New. Change. Different.
These buzzwords have been consistent themes out of the Wizards’ sanctuary. I halfway expected Grunfeld to dive into Buddhist ‘rebirth’ concepts as the sounds of the Digable Planets slowly faded into the background. But he wasn’t draped in a monk’s robe, or even a black turtle neck and skinny jeans. Rather, a plain polo with no team logo. But there was gospel music from preparations of ‘How Sweet The Sound‘ in the background.
But “entitlement” could also be added to the positive sentiments floating around the Verizon Center. Grunfeld spoke of “getting back to where we belong,” and said, “We’re expecting to win.” He lauded setting the bar high because he and the players are excited about the challenge.
As far as how high that bar is set, well, that “remains to be seen,” which was Grunfeld’s response when asked to clarify what he meant by the “damage” he felt the Wizards could do in the post-season.
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who considers anything short of advancing past the second round to be ‘playoff damage.’ So, while the stated championship aspirations of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are great, a reasonable ‘damage’ goal seems to be the conference finals.
“All our players, to a man, were hurt by what happened last year,” Grunfeld said. The team he has constructed, the one he can finally take full ownership of (Brendan Haywood remains the sole product of the previous regime, but Grunfeld extended his contract before the 04-05 season), is out to prove that last season was a fluke.
Perhaps instead of ‘Character, Commitment, Connection,’ the 09-10 team motto should be ‘Road To Redemption.’
On Gilbert Arenas-Gate
Everyone knew the question was going to be asked (no one would be doing their job if it wasn’t), and everyone knew the direction Ernie’s answer would go:
“That’s in the past. We’ve learned some things from it … probably. And he’s learned some things from it … probably. But the bottom line is that he’s healthy, he’s feeling really good, and we’re going to move forward with it.”
You can go read the take Mike Jones has on Arenas in the Washington Times, and Mike Prada’s take on Bullets Forever. There’s nothing more I can say about it, nor care to say. I’m kinda tired of Gilbert’s Gilbertology and would rather forget about it with some wins.
- “It’s a process.” – Grunfeld used Flip Saunders’ favorite buzzword when referring to the development of team chemistry with several new players and a new coach.
- “I think he’s ready to take another step,” Grunfeld said in reference to Andray Blatche, continuing the recycled talk of Andray needing “consistency.” Perhaps instead of the nicknames ‘Unbreakable’ and/or ‘John School’, we should start calling him ‘Déjà Vu’ … because yes, we’ve heard talk of Blatche having a good summer and looking stronger before.
- “Players will tell us what to do by their performance … competition is good.” On where someone like Mike James will fit in.
- On the possibility of replacement refs: “Our job is to get out there and play. The league and the referees will handle that situation on their own.”
- On sponsoring practice jerseys: “Not yet, but something might be in the works … If the right opportunity comes along, then we’ll move in that direction.”
- On team depth: “Obviously the whole thing has to come together, guys have to accept their roles, and we have to see which combination works the best.”
- On Defense: “Flip and his staff obviously have to put more emphasis on the defensive end and players have to buy into it a little bit. Look, we’re not going to give up on the offensive end, we know we’re a pretty good offensive team and we have a lot of firepower.” He went on the stress that the players have to ‘buy in’ for the team to improve defensively.
- “It’s a neat thing with them.” On the “outstanding” relationship between Flip Saunders and Arenas.
Prada got an initial post up on Bullets Forever regarding his query to Grunfeld about the team’s use of statistics. I just wanted to post a couple quotes here:
- Statistics are “part of the process.”
- “At the end of the day, I trust my eyes as much as statistics.”
- “Not every player is a ‘stat’ player.”
- “Stat things are great for fantasy players, and fantasy leagues, and things like that … and sometimes we look at them too, but in my opinion, you can’t put everything in that basket. But it does play an important role over a long period of time. It shows certain trends.”
Mike Wise has my back.
Early in the presser, Grunfeld was asked about his commitment to the ‘Big Three’ when a lot of people have said that the Wizards should start over. Grunfeld’s canned response was, “Well, I don’t know who said that … that we should start over, first of all. Put names behind somebody and I’ll answer it, but hypotheticals… I feel good about these guys. I think these guys are good. I think they showed when they did play together for an extended period of time, they won a lot of games.”
Later, after the ‘official’ presser was over and a couple of us hung around in an informal, but ‘on the record’ session, I posed the question to Ernie, “Going back to the things that ‘unnamed people’ say, some people don’t feel [the Wizards -- but of course, I said 'we' here] have the front court depth to fit the ‘Defense Wins Championships’ mold, so are you going to be proactive from day one or sit back and see if other teams present opportunities [for the Wizards] to improve?”
Grunfeld responded, again, with a canned answer: “I can’t comment on what certain people say because I don’t know who these certain people are. You know, that’s sports. Certain people say a lot of things. I can’t go comment on what Joe from the street corner is saying.”
At that point, I really wasn’t going to retort by saying that’s what I believed. It was my first time meeting the guy, so my credibility only goes so far. But that’s when the Washington Post’s Mike Wise jumped in, saying, “I completely agree with him though.”
Grunfeld responded, “Well … what do you say, Mike?”
Wise: “I’m saying your front court needs help, you’ve got all these guards.”
Grunfeld: We’ll see … that’s my answer.”
(all around laughter from the peanut gallery)
And I’m out….