Ernie Grunfeld will return as president of the Washington Wizards, according to two league officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis have tentatively agreed to a deal that is believed to be for more than one year, a deal that would keep the team’s architect in Washington contractually until at least the end of the 2013-2014 season. Financial terms were not known, but Grunfeld’s present deal was set to expire at the end of this season. He has been the Wizards’ chief decision-maker since the late Abe Pollin hired him to take over the franchise in 2003.
The team is expected to make an announcement as early as Tuesday, the officials said. A Wizards official declined comment before Monday night’s game against the Bobcats at Verizon Center.
Amid speculation that Grunfeld’s job could be in jeopardy after overseeing four of the worst consecutive seasons, winning percentage wise, in franchise history, Leonsis weighed Grunfeld’s ability to accrue draft picks and salary-cap space -- and move unwanted or expensive players -- in his decision to retain Grunfeld, the officials said.
According to multiple league sources, Leonsis in recent weeks has refused to correspond with agents representing prospective Wizards’ general managers interested in replacing Grunfeld. The team’s owner since the spring of 2010, Leonsis negotiated only with Grunfeld.
Grunfeld’s Wizards have posted a 282-438 record. But since Leonsis has taken over, Grunfeld has led the rebuilding efforts around former No. 1 overall pick John Wall. In the past two seasons, Grunfeld has traded Gilbert Arenas and his exorbitant contract to Orlando; acquired Kirk Hinrich and Kevin Seraphin from Chicago and used Hinrich to acquire Jordan Crawford and Chris Singleton. This season, Grunfeld fired Flip Saunders after a 2-15 start and replaced him with Randy Wittman. He also dealt away former draft picks JaVale McGee and Nick Young to get proven veteran big man Nene from Denver.
Leonsis’s decision to take back Nene’s contract – which has $52 million remaining after this season – was a possible hint that Grunfeld was going to be brought back. But Grunfeld’s position was probably strengthened nearly two weeks ago when he attended the NBA Board of Governor’s meeting in New York in place of Leonsis.
Grunfeld’s track record under Leonsis hasn’t been far from perfect. The Wizards have gone 41-105 in the past two seasons and his most glaring mistake over the past two seasons was giving Andray Blatche a three-year extension worth $28 million to keep him in the fold through the 2014-15 season.
Blatche has foundered since signing the deal and Grunfeld tried unsuccessfully to move him at the trade deadline. Blatche stopped traveling with the team last month to deal with what the team stated were “conditioning” problems. Draft picks Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack have shown flashes but had minimal impact in their rookie seasons, despite plenty of opportunity to contribute.
Wittman has gone 16-31 since replacing Saunders and the Wizards were 4-4 with Nene in uniform entering the game against Charlotte. The Wizards are assured another high draft pick this summer and Grunfeld now has permission to continue leading the rebuilding of the franchise.
Staff writer Mike Wise contributed to his report