The Wizards Do Not Have A Plan | Wizards Blog Truth About

The Wizards Do Not Have A Plan

Updated: February 8, 2019

Why beat around the bush? Ernie Grunfeld is an incompetent buffoon who has no semblance of a plan, and the longer Ted Leonsis ignores this fact, the longer the Washington Wizards will be irrelevant.

Grunfeld’s actions as a general manager/president are indefensible. Each of his most impressive accomplishments of the past decade has simply pushed the reckoning of his own mistakes to the future. That future has finally started to become the present, and the ensuing reality is going to be grim. This reckoning was predictable and avoidable, but Leonsis has refused to take responsibility for this disaster, and he appears content allowing this ship to sink all the way to the bottom.

The “Plan” Doesn’t Exist

Do not listen to the noise. There is no plan. The Wizards have eased off using the terminology of “The Plan,” but the same rhetoric remains. Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld want you to believe they have a plan, a backup plan, the ability to think long term, and the ability to react coherently. They have none of those things.

Grunfeld told Fred Katz of The Athletic that the Wizards “wanted to stay competitive” and needed to determine what “the best course of action is for the team for the remainder of this year — but also looking into the future, what helps us the most?”

That is not a plan. That is a trash bag full of half-baked ideas for building a basketball team. This is a cacophony of front-office buzzwords, like a toddler playing with magnetic letters on a refrigerator.

The following teams are in win-now mode: Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Golden State, Denver, Oklahoma City, Portland, Houston, Utah, San Antonio, Sacramento. They all have winning records and can easily justify attempts to win now.

The following teams are in various stages of a rebuild: New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas. The all have losing records. But also, crucially, either young talent, quality draft picks, cap space, or a combination of the three.

Here are the teams that remain in the Western Conference: Minnesota and both Los Angeles teams. The Lakers and Clippers are planning a big swing, and the Timberwolves were forced to trade their best player early in the season, lost the main piece they received in that deal to injury, and have still pulled off a 25-29 record in a deep Western Conference.

Here are the teams that remain the Eastern Conference: Charlotte, Miami, Detroit, Orlando, and Washington. There aren’t many worse teams in the NBA to be grouped with, in any conversation. Charlotte and Orlando are in a perpetual state of mediocrity, but at least Orlando has some young talent and could have a bright future. Detroit is in its first season with a new head coach and GM and is still 2.5 games up on Washington.

Miami is the most comparable team to Washington for the sake of this exercise—in salary cap hell and just traded a big contract to avoid the luxury tax. But the Heat have a four-game lead on the Wizards, the team’s starting point guard is about to return from injury, Dwyane Wade is doing his victory tour so arenas are filling up, and a playoff spot seems likely.

Also, two years from now, the Heat have committed $71 million to six players while the Wizards have committed $73 million to three players. Oh, and the Heat play in one of the most desirable markets in the NBA and, for now, have an NBA legend in the front office, so future free agent pitches will likely be better for the Heat than they will for the Wizards.

Forget About This Year

What is the absolute best-case scenario for the 2018-19 Washington Wizards? At the time of the trade deadline, they sat 10 games below .500. Ten games. One of the team’s best players likely won’t take the court again until October 2020, when he’ll be 30 years old, and the other one is second in the NBA in minutes played (15 minutes fewer than Jrue Holiday, who has played one more game than Beal).

So one of their stars is on the mend for a huge chunk of what should be his prime, and the other star is being ground into dust playing 39 minutes a game . . . for what? To “stay competitive” this year? The four best teams in the East can all claim to be among the five or six best teams in the NBA, and all but the Celtics made trades this week to dramatically improve.

If the Wizards somehow stumble into the playoffs this year—that would require something like an 18-10 record the rest of the way, and 12 of those games are against teams with winning records—the NBA might have to institute a postseason slaughter rule.

When Washington loses Games 1 through 3 by an average of 25 points, well, do we really need to play a Game 4? The fans don’t want to see it, trust me. Or don’t trust me. Here’s what ticket prices for Wizards games look like the morning after the trade deadline.

What About The Future?

Let’s pretend the powers that be for the Wizards are rational, level-headed folks who realize this is a lost season, and let’s just focus on the second part of that Grunfeld quote: “Looking into the future, what helps us the most?”

Ernie Grunfeld rejected at least one trade offer that included a first-round pick, according to the Post’s Candace Buckner, because he didn’t want to accept a trade that “would force the team to take back the same amount of salary.”

Think about that: A week ago, the Wizards were content to pay the luxury tax next season for a team built around a Wall-Beal-Porter core with a slew of cheap veterans, apparently under the impression Wall would return healthy and looking like an All-Star again. Basically, they wanted to run it back against a new and improved Eastern Conference. Wall’s new injury problems, the Achilles tear, which Grunfeld claims will set him back “two, three months longer,” was enough to convince the team that saving money was now the ultimate goal.

Washington could have had a first-round draft pick (far from a slam dunk given Grunfeld’s spotty draft history), which would have provided young talent on a cheap deal for multiple years. The price was continuing to pay the money you had already signed up to pay. Instead, the front office decided to save the money, forgo the pick, and get a chance to “really take a good look at” two players who had little value; one of them you could have drafted but chose not to and has since punched a teammate in the face (Bobby Portis), the other is headed to his third team in two years and has two ACL tears over the past five seasons (Jabari Parker).

Well, you might ask: What happens if the Wizards actually got sneaky good value on the trade and one or both of Parker and Portis plays well? They can pick up a team option on Parker to the tune of $20 million, and Portis is a restricted free agent after the season.

This is a fun exercise, though, so let’s run through it.

Say the Wizards love what they get out of Parker, and they pick up his option. Here is what the 2019-20 Wizards look like: Wall (likely out for the season), Beal, Parker (now on an expiring contract, so even if he turns out to be a late bloomer, you’re going to lose him after the season), Troy Brown, Ian Mahinmi, and Dwight Howard. This ragtag bunch will cost Ted Leonsis $109 million, and that doesn’t include the cost of re-signing Tomas Satoransky, Thomas Bryant, or Bobby Portis, nor does it factor in a first-round draft pick or any other free agents.

Okay, what if they let Parker walk but Portis has a strong season and they want to bring him back? Now they’re at $89 million for Wall, Beal, Brown, Mahinmi, and Howard, and they’re at the mercy of the rest of the league on bidding for Portis and Satoransky. With all the major free agents available this summer, there will be many teams who whiff spectacularly and will need to spend that money elsewhere—picture summer of 2016. It’ll likely cost more if Portis plays well, but let’s pretend the Wizards get lucky and are able to re-sign the two players for a combined $25 million per year.

That puts Washington at $114 million for a mediocre starting lineup, a backup center, and John Wall on crutches. You’re now over the cap and about $18 million away from paying the luxury tax again, and that’s without paying your first-round pick or any free agents (including Thomas Bryant). That’s not exactly the stuff stellar general managers/presidents are made of.

The Window Has Passed

Both of those situations ignore the fact that Washington will again look up at the top of the Eastern Conference and see absolute juggernauts. Imagine if Kyrie Irving stays in Boston, Kawhi Leonard stays in Toronto, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris stay in Philadelphia, Khris Middleton stays in Milwaukee, and the Knicks go all-in and get Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. You now have five powerhouse teams, plus the Pacers (currently 36-19) will have two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo back.

The Eastern Conference was a trainwreck for years. The depth is still laughable and it’s highly likely there will be multiple teams in the playoffs with losing records. But now, the top half is dominant—and the Wizards are nowhere to be found.

Their young core is in tatters, their coach is a lame duck, they have likely the worst contract in the league (and they still have another year of Mahinmi!), LeBron James Jr. will be in the NBA before they have their own second-round pick, and they’ve managed to be just good enough to position themselves for the bottom of the lottery each year, where they’ve historically struggled to find talent.

Avoiding the tax this season is not nothing. People love to mock teams for making moves to avoid the tax, and if that’s your championship for the season, that’s a fair criticism. But avoiding the tax in a lost season allows a team to go into the tax for a better team next season without paying an increased repeater tax, and that matters. Leonsis and Grunfeld, if they still retained any credibility, could reasonably say they were throwing this season away and getting out of the tax this year so it would be easier to dip back into the tax next year (or the following year) to make another run at it.

Two things invalidate that thinking: First, the ownership and front office don’t have a plan and are just bumbling through this ordeal until somebody puts them out of their misery, and nobody believes the cliché tropes they throw out at every trade deadline. Second, by not trading away Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green for future assets and a chance to tank, they’ve proven they are not committed to any one plan.

The Excuses Will Always Exist

In that same article from The Athletic, Grunfeld said the Wizards “had to change [their] approach” due to John Wall’s Achilles tear. He added, “some things in this league you can’t control, and injuries are one of them.”

Grunfeld’s boss, Leonsis, said the following to NBC Sports Washington in September: “We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I’d like us to win 50 games. I’d like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals.” This was in the fifth paragraph of the linked article.

Two paragraphs later, Leonsis was quoted as saying the following: “We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They’re healthy entering the year. Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you’re getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let’s play ball.”

Ted Leonsis is the owner of the Washington Wizards. Ted Leonsis is responsible for everything that happens to the Washington Wizards. Ted Leonsis has lied to Wizards fans repeatedly. And if Ernie Grunfeld is allowed to keep his job for another year, Ted Leonsis will have lied again.


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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.