Wizards Historic Collapse Familiar Territory for Ernie Grunfeld | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Historic Collapse Familiar Territory for Ernie Grunfeld

Updated: March 6, 2015

[Anxious Ernie--What's going to happen, NBA Free Agency 2013?]

Good news, Wizards fans: The team started 19-6! That’s, like, historical. It’s happened only one other time in the franchise’s 50-plus seasons in existence.

Washington won 22 of their first 30 games this season. That number of wins ranks 106th-most for any team over its first 30 games during the NBA’s 3-point era. (1) For reference, as we dive in to the numbers, 20 or more wins over a team’s first 30 games has been achieved 204 times in the 3-point era.

Most wins over the first 30 games? Twenty-seven (27), accomplished by the 1990-91 Trailblazers, 1995-96 Bulls, and both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Boston Celtics. (Hi, Paul Pierce!)

Bad news, Wizards fans: As you might be aware, the game done changed.

Over games 31-to-60, Washington has a record of 12-18. That’s a drastic 33 percent drop in winning percentage. In losing to the Bulls on Tuesday, the Wizards also aren’t off to a great start over the season’s final 22-game stretch. Clearly.

Collapses in sports can be measured in a variety of different ways. What’s certain right now is that what the Wizards are doing—whatever it may be—is quite historical. To the databases!

In the NBA’s 3-point era, 14 teams have won 20 or more games over their first 30 contests … and then lost more than 15 games over their next 30 contests. (2)

The table below (3) shows the 14 qualifying franchises, season, record and win percentage over the first 30 games, record and win percentage over games 31-60, and the difference in win percentage between the two sets (which is how the teams are ranked).

Nearly half of the teams started 20-10 and followed that up with a 14-16 run. The Wizards are tied with the 2010-11 Utah Jazz for the most dramatic downward shift in win percentage (or collapse). That Jazz team was the one where Deron Williams, in essence, killed the will of Jerry Sloan to coach anymore. Sloan quit and retired after a 31-23 mark. Ty Corbin took over, finished the season 9-20, and Utah missed out on the playoffs. Only one other team in this set missed out on the playoffs—Mike Fratello’s 1996-97 Cleveland Cavaliers.


The second table below (4) reflects how each team finished over its final 22 contests, as well as the final record, head coach, and post-season result—the list is sorted by win percentage over the final 22 games. On only  one occasion was a coach fired as a result of mid-season futility: Don Nelson with the 1995-96 Knicks.

It was Nelson’s first year with the Knicks and the team was an absolute mess. By early-March 1996, then-Knicks GM Ernie Grunfeld had seen enough, so he fired Nelson and promoted assistant Jeff Van Gundy.

“It became very obvious that we needed to go in another direction,” Grunfeld said at the time. “The team was in a downward spiral. We’re not the same as we used to be.”

“You want a coach to have a passion for the game and a competitive desire for it. We’ve lost the work ethic. We lost our signature—defensive rebounding—and we have to get back to that,” Grunfeld continued.

Randy Wittman’s current situation under Grunfeld in Washington is certainly different. I’m not sure anyone would necessarily question Wittman’s passion at the moment—even though he has consistently questioned the effort of his team. One can honestly wonder, however, if the entire team—led by both Wittman and Grunfeld—has lost its competitive desire. The eye test and the record test (three wins in the last 15 games) would point the answer in one direction.

D.C., alas, is a different market than New York, which affords team owner Ted Leonsis the ability to employ more patience and frugality. After all, hiring the right coach to potentially bring the franchise to the next level might cost a lot of money.

One thing is evident: none of the teams listed below made it past the second round of the playoffs. Five out of 13 didn’t make it past the first round. It would take a much deeper dive to investigate any of their particular issues—injuries, malaise, or inability to shoot 3-pointers or get to the free throw line.

But perhaps Leonsis is merely happy with picking up a playoff participation trophy. If you’re going to peddle season ticket price increases—and want to be able to quantify the returns—you’ve got to start somewhere. Complacency is somewhere, at least. Meeting the lowest expectations is, apparently, enough.

  1. Since 1979-80, via Basketball-Reference.com.
  2. This is restricted to full, 82-game schedules. During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Philadelphia 76ers under Doug Collins started 20-10 and then finished the season 15-21. The 8-seed Sixers beat the 1-seed, Derrick Rose-less Bulls, 4-2, and then lost to the 4-seed Celtics in seven games in Round 2.
  3. Also linked here.
  4. Scroll to the right to see all the data; also linked here.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.