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DMA 7-22 Sports


February 18, 2010 8:00 AM

Save Seat for Grunfeld on Train Out of Town

Now that the dismantling of the once promising 2009-2010 Washington Wizards is two-thirds complete, let's move to a bigger question: What about Ernie Grunfeld?

saunders_300_090423b.jpgWith Caron Butler dispatched to Dallas Saturday night, Antawn Jamison jettisoned to Cleveland last night and Gilbert Arenas serving his season-ending, Gun Gate suspension, the era of the Wizards' "Big Three" is relegated to history.

Maybe the next ticket to be punched out of town will be that of team president Grunfeld -- the architect of the Washington basketball franchise since arriving from Milwaukee in 2003.

The wretched season is Grunfeld's baby. He's the captain of the ship, and when the ship sinks the captain goes overboard with his crew. In Grunfeld's case, you have to question the body of his recent decision-making.

Start with Arenas. Now that Butler and Jamison have moved on, you can't expect Agent Zero to be around Washington again next season. It was Grunfeld who inked the oft-injured Arenas to a $111 million contract. But more than the contract, you wonder what kind of operation Grunfeld has been running that tolerates athletes bringing guns into the locker room.

Sure, you can't pin Arenas' indiscretions entirely on Grunfeld. But Gun Gate ballooned into a scandal of monumental proportions in Washington and nationally. And it is the boss man who is responsible for establishing the culture in an organization. When that culture fails to the point where an Arenas can take an inmates-running-the-asylum posture, it is the ultimate responsibility of the leader - Grunfeld.


But look deeper into Grunfeld's decisions.

In a day and age when being a good citizen means something, why ship Jamison to Cleveland? You're going to have to rebuild. Why not rebuild the thing with Jamison as the standard bearer. So you get Zydrunas Ilgauskas and his expiring contract for the remainder of the season, along with Al Thornton from the Clippers and a draft pick. But for man-of-the-year Jamison, who still manages to drop 20 points and 10 rebounds on most nights?

Then you ship out cosmo-man Butler for flaky Josh Howard. So your forwards are Howard, who once admitted to smoking pot before games, and uninspiring Andray Blatche.

Then look at the draft choices: Blatche (the 49th overall pick out of prep school in 2005), Nick Young from USC (16th in 2007) and JaVale McGee from Nevada (16th in 2008). Not a frontline player among them. And remember, it was Grunfeld who brought in Javaris Crittenton - Arenas' Gun Gate combatant.

You cut former coach Eddie Jordan loose 11 games into the 2008-2009 season while star Arenas was on the shelf and after Jordan led the team to four playoff appearances, suffer through interim Ed Tapscott and hire vanilla Flip Saunders by promising him the world.

Here was Grunfeld during training camp in September: "I haven't been this excited in a very long time. There is a different sense around here. There is a different sense around the team. The players feel it. There is a new kind of enthusiasm. There is a new kind of professionalism. There is a new way of doing things that's exciting for us."

Grunfeld's life has been the NBA -- 32 years as a player, broadcaster, coach and executive. You loved watching him play back in the day alongside Bernard King with the Knicks, a great tandem. The Wizards' page on NBA.com notes that his "vision and leadership have been paramount to the Wizards' success."

Give him credit. While not enjoying NBA titles, Grunfeld as an executive in Milwaukee and New York has taken teams deep into the playoffs. And he remade the Wizards after the Wizards' failed Michael Jordan experiment by having the insight to nab Arenas, Jamison and Butler via free agency and trades. And last season, he picked veterans Mike Miller and Randy Foye in a draft-day deal.

But that was then and now is now. "Everything has an end," Grunfeld said recently, "and everything takes its course."

Grunfeld's own words are telling about what should be his fate.

With the franchise being torn apart on the back of questionable executive decision-making on his watch, Grunfeld's day is done.

Granted, many will praise Grunfeld for dramatically taking the Wizards into a new direction and saving contract dollars via his trades of the past week. But the view here: It's time for a new leader.

  • DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com

Photo: Wizards' Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders, Washington Post

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