Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld celebrated his 57th birthday by signing a contract extension on Tuesday and spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes afterward, covering a wide range of topics, including his nine years with the franchise, the direction of the team, and the futures of Randy Wittman and Andray Blatche. The Wizards (18-46) are headed to the lottery for the fourth consecutive season, but since owner Ted Leonsis has taken over, Grunfeld has followed his orders to build through the draft, acquire young talent and keep the team financially flexible.
Grunfeld admitted that the Wizards are in “year two of a three-year rebuild.” When asked if he deserved the extension (terms have still not been disclosed), Grunfeld replied, “The important thing is Ted felt that.”
Here are few of the highlights from his news conference:
His reaction to getting a new deal: “I'm excited about it. It’s been a process for us. Obviously we’ve been very transparent about what we’re trying to do. We had a a game plan and we wanted to rebuild through the draft with younger players, put ourselves in a good position from a salary cap standpoint moving forward and I think we’ve really made some good progress. I’m excited about being a part of it moving forward.”
On his ability to execute Leonsis’s plan: “I don't know. I have a history in this league, I've been doing this job, a job like this for 22 years, and I think we did some good things. I thought we had a game plan, obviously I was part of it when Ted took over the team he had a plan and we went out and we executed it together and the plan is not complete yet. We still have a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of work to do, but I think we can really see some progress. Our young players are developing, we’ve become much more competitive, we’ve added some veteran players that have really helped us along the way, and I think we have a bright future.”
On his greatest regret the past nine years: “We didn’t win a championship. Everybody always wants to be the best they can possibly be and move forward. You can’t really go back and compare what happened. It’s a whole cast of different characters, the rules were different. The whole situation was different. All we’re doing is moving forward and looking to the future and I think the future looks good for us.”
On plans to sign free agents: “We already acquired a free agent, the way we look at it in Nene. Last summer he was the most sought-after free agent in the marketplace. We were able to get him via trade instead of having to play the free agent game and going out there not knowing for sure if you were going to get a player of his caliber. We played the free agent game, we just did it a little bit different. We are paying somebody a very nice salary. The games he played for us we’re 5-4 and of the four losses, three of them were by three points or less against some very god teams. Obviously, he makes a difference out there. He knows how to play the game. He’s a very intelligent player. He’s savvy. He’s one of those players that commands respect from the opposition as well as his teammates."
On Randy Wittman’s future: “I think Randy’s done a very nice job with this team. The players have responded to him. The players are playing very hard for him and once the season is over, I’ll sit with Ted, and we’ll evaluate the situation just like we do every year.”
On whether Andray Blatche has played his last game with the Wizards: “No. Not necessarily. Players are always forgiven if they come back and perform well. . . . That remains to be seen. It’s going to be a process that we’ll monitor during the summer. Obviously, he’s a very talented player as he’s shown in the past. He got hurt early in the year, and he was just never able to get into the kind of game shape that we needed him to be in to help contribute this year.”
On the reason for the rebuild: “There’s a lot of circumstances that go with certain things. We had to pivot and change course in midstream of where we were. We made the playoffs four years in a row and we went to the second round one time, and two of those playoff rounds, we didn’t have our top scorer playing for us, and one of them we didn’t have our top scorer and Caron Butler playing for us. I think we had some good success, and then we had some injuries that really hurt us. The following year, Brendan Haywood and Gilbert [Arenas] went down. We made some trades and we had a very good ballclub, and then we an incident in the locker room, and we decided to go in a different direction then and to get new players and to rebuild. There was also an ownership change, and when Ted came in he said that what he wanted to do was build through the draft just like he did with the Capitals and obviously that was our plan, and get young players and develop with them and build with them, get a team that could be competitive for many years to come. And that was our plan, and that’s what we’re in the process of carrying out.”