But President Ernie Grunfeld said he has no plans to abandon the long-term strategy of building through the draft and developing unseasoned talent. Dismissing Saunders less than two years after Grunfeld decided to dismantle the team he hired Saunders to coach altered the captain, but not the course.
“I think we’ve been pretty transparent,” Grunfeld said in a telephone interview. “We all knew it was going to be a process. Obviously, everyone would like to be a championship contender every year. But we’re in a different position and a different situation and we came up with a game plan and we’re going to follow through on that game plan.”
Grunfeld is in the final year of his contract with the Wizards and has compiled an overall record of 268-409 (.396) in nine seasons.
He helped build the Wizards into a playoff team, but after making four consecutive postseason appearances — and advancing to the second round once — the franchise has fallen on some hard times. Since the 2008-09 season, the Wizards are 72-195 (.270) and failed to win more than 26 games in any season.
Grunfeld was hired away from Milwaukee by Abe Pollin in 2003, but he has followed through on new owner Ted Leonsis’s orders to collect draft picks and prospects and keep the team financially stable. When asked about his future with the organization beyond this season, Grunfeld said, “I’m not concerned about that. I’m just concerned about doing the best job that we can do as an organization to put us in a position to be a competitive team for many years to come, and when we got into this process, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy process for us. And we knew there were going to be some ups and downs and I think we’ve seen some good signs from our young players.”
New Coach Randy Wittman is the fourth coach the franchise has had in the past four seasons, and Grunfeld said he has noticed a difference in the energy level of the players since he made the change.
The team is 2-2 since Wittman took over and will face the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at Amway Center.
Grunfeld believed that the players had stopped listening to Saunders and he also wanted to establish a different identity for the team.
“Flip is a very good basketball man. He’s a good friend. It’s always very difficult, but I felt like at that point, we needed to get a different voice and do things a little different than we’ve been doing them,” Grunfeld said. “I think we’re playing a more uptempo style, offensively and defensively. We’re pressuring the ball more. We’re taking advantage of our size and our length and our athleticism, probably a little bit better than we had earlier.”