[This is Part Two of a two-part post on Washington Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld looking back at his almost 25-year tenure making player personnel decisions in the National Basketball Association. Part One can be read here.]
[Ed. Note: This is the 'official' TAI debut of Conor Dirks, longtime Wizards fan, Maryland transplant in the ATL. Follow him on Twitter: @ConorDDirks. -Kyle W.]
A pensive Ernie Grunfeld prepares to “explain.” Please allow him to do so.
In the last 10 years, the Wizards have had exactly one general manager, former NBA player Ernest Grunfeld. During Ernie’s tenure, the Wizards have amassed 475 losses, which is good for the second-most losses (tonight’s opponent, Minnesota, has the most) and third-worst winning percentage in the NBA over the last 10 years. The reason for the discrepancy between total losses and percentage is appropriately sad: the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t exist during Grunfeld’s first year with Washington.
It would be irresponsible to hold one individual wholly accountable for the failure of an organization with so many moving parts. However, after the trade of Jordan Crawford, and a recent history riddled with failed player development, it’s appropriate to try to ascertain what has gone wrong.
Bad draft picks and failed draft picks are not one and the same. Many of Ernie Grunfeld’s draft-day acquisitions have gone on to play significant roles in the NBA. However, the Wizards under Ernie Grunfeld have shown a complete lack of ability to develop and retain valuable players. Washington has also, during Grunfeld’s tenure, become notorious for dysfunction. This dysfunction isn’t endemic to D.C.’s team (see: Sacramento Kings), but the Verizon Center might be its headquarters. Read more »
[Flip Saunders attempts to coach up his team in his last home game with the Wizards.]
Flip Saunders was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Washington Wizards today. He departs D.C. with a record of 51-130 over two full seasons and about a fourth of this lockout-shortened season. Assistant Randy Wittman will take over as head coach, the team has announced, and assistants Don Zierden, Sam Cassell, Ryan Saunders and Gene Banks will remain. TAI’s Adam McGinnis, Rashad Mobley and Kyle Weidie answer three questions related to the firing. Let it begin…
That was Flip Saunders’ surly response to why he yanked all five of his starters two minutes into the second half of the Washington Wizards’ 25-point blowout preseason loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last Friday night.
Saunders was highly disappointed in the effort of the first unit by their insufficient ball movement, lack of trust in one another and overall selfish play.
“This is a team game, and it is not about individuals … it is the five players that play the best together and that is your best team, not the five most talented player. If you don’t play and you’re not giving effort as a team, you are not going to play, no matter who it is.”
“Ball Don’t Lie!,” goes the famous saying, extended into pixels forever thanks to Rasheed Wallace. It’s entirely possible that Wallace, when he was a member of the Detroit Pistons, picked up the phrase from his coach, Flip Saunders. Wallace, however, was also said to use it as a member of the Portland Trailblazers. So maybe Flip learned it from watching him. And who knows where Rasheed got it from.
There’s a YouTube video of Wallace saying it during a Pistons-Milwaukee Bucks game after an Andrew Bogut missed free-throw. Ironically, there’s also footage of Saunders, as Pistons coach, saying “Ball don’t lie,” after a Gilbert Arenas missed technical free-throw for the Washington Wizards. Little did Flip know then how much he’d later be involved with Gilbert. But the ball, according to Saunders, isn’t the only think that does not lie. Game film doesn’t lie either.
On Saturday afternoon, after an embarrassing home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in their first preseason game on Friday, the Wizards returned to the scene of the crime. First up, a lengthy film session to review the 103-78 defeat.
“When you watch film, film doesn’t lie,” said Saunders. “You can see in the film who’s doing the right things, who’s doing the wrong things.”
Media members tend to attach themselves to keywords or catch phrases and then shape narratives around them. Guilty as charged. The Washington Wizards franchise has especially provided an abundance of excellent catch phrases over the years.
Recently, you have “pixels” via the web tech-savvy Ted Leonsis (and now, likely “erudite“). From Flip Saunders, we’ve had “Style over substance” as a JaVale McGee descriptor. Going back further, Gilbert Arenas helped popularize the term, “Swag.” Now most feel that word is overused, how oddly fitting.
“Just like Groundhog Day,” Antawn Jamison used to say. From “Get buckets son!,” via Oleksiy Pecherov to “I Love This Game!,” the NBA’s 90s motto that Gheorghe Muresan famously said in broken English over the television airwaves on draft night 1993, some phrases have been more relevant than others. And I’m failing to mention dozens of them, as they pertain to the Wizards.
Andray Blatche pounded his chest as he strutted off the practice court at training camp Wednesday evening, mean mugging and dripping with sweat.
“That’s one, that’s one, Dray,” shouted assistant coach Gene Banks from under one of the main baskets. “You’ve got one more!”
Banks was overseeing a heavyweight battle between Blatche and second-year bruiser Kevin Seraphin, and tried to persuade him to run it back for a best-of-three series. Blatche, unconvinced, waved a flippant hand in the direction of his coach before proclaiming, “I won. I just won. Gosh!”
Talk is cheap, and perhaps so is reading. And in retrospect, all the electronic pixels and printed typeface in the world can be just as meaningless as spoken words, as they pertain to future promises and the game of basketball.
Thus, people will readily point out that this is at least the fourth consecutive year of corner-turning expectations for Andray Blatche. Some have given up on him. Some continue to have hope. What’s evident is that he might finally break through toward a specific destination of achievement, or he won’t.
In his post lockout press conference, Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders mentioned that he and team VP of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard gave Blatche a book on leadership this summer, before the lockout. When asked about that book at training camp this past weekend, Blatche could neither remember the book’s title, nor much of the leadership advice it offered.
“I only read like half of it, because after a while, it was like, ‘OK, alright, I got the message,’” Blatche said with a sheepish grin on his face. He went on to talk about the standards of leading by example and making those around him better. This piggy-backed words from Blatche reflecting that he now has become tired of not being a leader, tired of being on a team more known for goofiness, and tired of playing losing basketball.
“Playing around haven’t gotten us no where,” Blatche said. “All the games is out. I’m 25-years old now, this is my seventh year in the league. This is my time for me to step up and try to have guys follow me on the path I want to go. And the path I want to go is winning… just the total opposite of last season.”
Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders made his official return to the Verizon Center press table on Friday afternoon to speak with the media. He made some statements, he made some observations, he set some goals, and he dished out a couple zingers. Afterward, a handful of media members assembled in an impromptu huddle to comment on how much Flip seemed ready to talk. Hey, the man is just glad to have a season and a team to coach. For now, if media ears are around to listen, well, they come with the blissful territory. Let’s run through Flip’s Top 11 quote tid-bits…
#11 On areas of improvement…
“We need to be better offensively, as far as on turning the ball over. That cost us a lot. I always believe that if you don’t turn it over you’re going to have a chance to win.”
[Blatche celebrates a close win over the Pistons.]
Andray Blatche. Yes, that Andray Blatche … Party All Dray. He’s been a little bit different lately, hasn’t he? Sure has. Averaging 25.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in the last four games (up from his 17.4 and 8.7 respective averages per 36 for the season), since his return from injury is certainly a strong indication that things could be different for Blatche.
Straight and to the point, he’s been attacking the rim. Living in the paint. Doing the dirty work down low. All the good stuff the team has always needed Andray Blatche to do, but has never quite been satisfied.