Wizards’ Ernie Grunfeld not worried about contract extension
By Michael Lee,
Ernie Grunfeld, the Washington Wizards’ president of basketball operations, whose contract expires after next season, said Thursday that he has not had any negotiations with owner Ted Leonsis about a contract extension and doesn’t expect any soon.
“I’m under contract. I’m not really even thinking about that at all,” Grunfeld said after his annual end-of-year news conference. “All I’m thinking about is making this team as good as possible and continue to do the plan that we have in place.”
Grunfeld followed Leonsis’s rebuilding plan precisely this season and benefited from a little serendipity, earning a vote of confidence from Leonsis, who said the team “exceeded” his expectations.
Although the Wizards (23-59) will make their third consecutive lottery appearance next month, there is considerable optimism after a season that was more about acquiring and developing assets, clearing cap space and grooming No. 1 overall pick John Wall to become the franchise foundation.
Grunfeld was able to get the franchise moving in a different direction by dealing away Gilbert Arenas, a trade that many thought was impossible because of the size of Arenas’s contract and his considerable baggage. Grunfeld used Kirk Hinrich as a trading chip to acquire three additional draft picks.
And Coach Flip Saunders helped holdover talent Nick Young, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche post career years while allowing rookies Wall, Trevor Booker and Jordan Crawford to make gradual progress over the course of the season.
The results on the court weren’t always pretty, which was expected in what Grunfeld called a “transition” year. “We knew it was going to be a painful process,” he said. “But any time you go with youth, you’re going to be a little inconsistent. But I think going down the road for the future, this is really going to help us.
“It’s not a one-year process,” he added. “It’s an ongoing process. We know it’s going to take us some time to get the whole package together.”
The Wizards will have two first-round picks — their lottery choice and the 18th selection acquired from Atlanta in the Hinrich deal — in what many have classified as a weak draft this June. But Grunfeld said the team will “be able to come up with a couple of players that can help us.”
The Wizards also have just $40.7 million committed to seven players next season — Rashard Lewis, Kevin Seraphin, Wall, Blatche, McGee, Booker and Crawford — after Mike Bibby decided to give back his entire $6.2 million salary to sign with Miami.
Young, the Wizards’ leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, will be a restricted free agent this summer. But Grunfeld said it would be difficult to speculate on free agency until the league and the players’ union reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The current one expires this summer.
The Wizards also announced that they would unveil new red, white and blue uniforms and logos on May 10.