Opening Statements 21: Wizards vs Nuggets — Extinction Grade Wizard | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 21: Wizards vs Nuggets — Extinction Grade Wizard

Updated: December 8, 2016

Washington Wizards vs. Denver NuggetsIf you are reading this blog, you’re still alive. Good. Despite winnowing numbers in attendance (lowest for the team since 2000), there are still people out there who care about the Washington Wizards. And there are reasons to care. Fewer reasons to hope. Almost no reason to think things will get better under the same regime.

It’s a source of fascination for this writer when the seemingly routine losing of a franchise that has done little else but lose in the last three decades reaches a breaking point with media and fans, as the loss to Orlando on Tuesday appeared to accomplish. Suddenly, the Wizards were in the spotlight for losing their 13th game of another season that came with playoff expectations. As Dan Steinberg noted on Twitter, it ain’t nothing new.

But Tuesday’s grim result reached the national basketball consciousness as well, cutting through the noise of an 82-game season like an Arctic flare. And before the morning was over, a consensus was reached. SBNation’s Tom “Team” Ziller wrote that Washington’s problem was the gargantuan drop-off in talent, efficiency, and production from the quartet of Wall, Beal, Porter, and Gortat to the rest of the team, including starting 4-man Markieff Morris:

“The solution is obvious: Get a better bench. If Morris weren’t playing so poorly, Brooks might be able to bring him in as a reserve. At this point, that wouldn’t help because Morris is just as unproductive as Oubre. A healthy Mahinmi could help with the bench’s atrocious defensive performance, but the backcourt has no solution in sight. Who could have guessed the D.C. faithful would be wistful for Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple?

“The Wizards are bad because most of the roster is bad. Not even a healthy Bradley Beal and an awesome Otto Porter can patch that hole. Unless Satoransky, Burke and/or Oubre figures it out quick, it will take a trade to fix this. In the meantime, Washington slips further away from the playoffs.”

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko was, to my delight, more to the point: posting a piece entitled “The Wizards are Dead, Ernie Grunfeld Killed Them.” Burneko’s piece was a more colorful (reflective of the fact that the author is a lifelong Wizards fan) description of the point Ziller was trying to make:

“The fact that a list of the NBA’s worst active players in 2016 would include Burke, Nicholson, Smith, and Thornton is no surprise. For that matter, that the Wizards would not only employ but actually use—depend on!—literally all four of those players isn’t all that surprising either, if you’ve paid attention to the Wizards at any point in the 13 years Ernie Grunfeld has been the team’s president of basketball operations. Hell, if you really wanna get bleak about it, that an incompetent NBA lifer like Grunfeld has kept his job all this time, despite a job performance that would need something like a three-year streak of brilliant summer and trade-deadline personnel coups to earn its way up to the descriptor “putrid,” isn’t really surprising either, if you’ve paid attention to the Wizards at any point in basically their entire history. The point, here, is not to call attention to anything surprising, but only to say this: the Wizards are purgatory.”

Burneko also hit on one of the most important aspects of Grunfeld’s tenure, simultaneously the reason that the Wizards ever rose from the ashes of Gilbert Arenas in the first place and why they’re stuck in the lower-middle class of the NBA’s heirarchy.

“What Wall, Beal, and Porter have in common—other than that when Brooks removes any of them from the game, it portends an immediate 11-2 run for the other team—is that their selections were no-brainers for Grunfeld. Wall was the obvious top pick in 2010, Beal the consensus third pick in 2012, Porter a contender for the top spot in the weak 2013 class and a local favorite out of Georgetown. Around them Grunfeld has assembled a wet pile of smelly socks, at ridiculous expense: the Wizards have the 11th-highest player payroll in the NBA this season, and more money committed to next season than all but eight other teams, even before they give Porter the max contract he’ll undoubtedly receive in the coming summer.”

For the last half-decade, the only decent Wizards personnel decisions have been top-3 lottery picks and non-marquee trades. Each and every pure free agent signing has been a disaster. I challenge you, reader, to think of a positive multi-year free agent deal since Wall became the starting point guard. You can’t! There haven’t been any. Grunfeld’s last remaining maneuver, and one he should get credit for in the way that we give credit to a politician who convinces a population he’s on their side when he has absolutely no interest in helping them, is the buyer’s remorse or salary dump trade scoop. Some of Washington’s only good role players in the last decade have come via this method. Nene, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor. These were good players, and Washington’s success mirrored their value. But it does appear that Grunfeld’s last such move, the trade for Markieff Morris, was just a little too cute. Morris isn’t very good. As Mr. Ziller noted, despite being a frontcourt player, Morris has an incredibly low eFG% of .438, 10th worst out of the 100-some players who are averaging ten or more shots per game. Even on an affordable deal, Morris may not be a starter-level talent.

What does all of this have to do with tonight’s Nuggets game? Everything! And nothing. Tonight’s game matters much like every other win or loss has mattered on the long road to irredeemably sucking despite three successful former lottery picks. And yet, maybe, this team is reaching a breaking point. The cold reality of John Wall’s potential departure. The total lack of excuse for a historically bad bench, currently worst in the league. Little to no flexibility for future free agent moves due to the awful, multi-year deals handed out last summer, a summer that was supposed to serve as the franchise’s launching pad but instead served as its tomb. Maybe a few more losses, my friends, maybe a dozen more, hopefully not a season more. Waiting until next offseason to enact change in the front office responsible for this roster would save costs, but would run the risk of further damage.

The time is yesterday to fire Ernie Grunfeld, finally. Give someone else a shot.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.