By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009
When Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld approached Coach Flip Saunders about the possibility of acquiring Mike Miller and Randy Foye from the Minnesota Timberwolves, he didn't have to make a hard sell. Saunders, the former Timberwolves coach, still has a residence in suburban Minneapolis and spent his season away from coaching watching his former team on a regular basis.
Since he was familiar with the strengths of both players, Saunders was immediately on board. "If we can get those two guys," Saunders recalled telling Grunfeld, "it's almost a no-brainer."
A day after trading the No. 5 pick in tonight's draft, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to the Minnesota for Miller and Foye, Grunfeld and Saunders were both optimistic about the direction of the franchise, which is looking to rebound from an injury-marred 19-63 season. "We feel good about this trade," Grunfeld said after pulling off arguably his third-biggest deal with the organization, behind the acquisitions of eventual all-stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. "I thought, we get two rotation players who are proven commodities and proven they can play at this level."
A rival league executive said yesterday that the trade pushes the Wizards into the group of elite teams in the Eastern Conference, along with Orlando, Cleveland and Boston.
"I think it's a very good deal for Washington. They're right up there with the elite teams as far as talent goes," the executive said on the condition of anonymity because he is not at liberty to discuss other teams. "They have a very good coach. It's a matter of how quickly they pull it together and obviously, how healthy is [Gilbert] Arenas? You don't know. That's a significant thing. But I think they helped themselves with the trade. I think they are as talented as anybody."
In Miller and Foye, the Wizards added two experienced and versatile players who provide depth and perimeter shooting. The Wizards ranked 29th in three-point shooting (33 percent) last season, but the 6-foot-8 Miller is a career 40.1 percent three-point shooter and 6-4 Foye shoots 37.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Wizards officials traveled to Chicago to evaluate and interview prospects for the fifth pick, brought dozens in for workouts, and determined that the franchise didn't have time to watch a draft pick develop and needed to add more talent and depth from players who can contribute right away.
Grunfeld said the move was not an indictment of the 2009 draft class. "All along, we've been saying we like the draft and we can get a player. I didn't know how long it would take for this player to develop. I didn't feel like there was anybody at the five spot who could fit into our rotation," Grunfeld said. "I don't think there are any guarantees in the draft and people are saying this is a weaker draft than normal, so for us to be able to turn the No. 5 pick into two players who can help us immediately and help us for years to come, we felt very good about it."
Grunfeld added that it wasn't necessary to wait and see which player fell to the team at No. 5. "We knew who was going to be at the five spot and we felt that these players were going to help us a lot more than anybody we would've gotten in the draft," Grunfeld said. "A lot of times what happens, when you wait on situations, the other team might get better offers along the way. Then the trade might go away. We felt good about this."
With the addition of two more offensive weapons, Saunders said he won't have a problem finding scoring opportunities for his players. "The one thing I never had a problem with, in Detroit, I had guys who like to shoot the ball. I had Rasheed. I had Chauncey. I had Rip Hamilton. I had Tayshaun Prince. You instill in your system that the idea is more team success over individual glory. You got to share the ball if you want to win," Saunders said. "The guys that we have coming in, Miller and Foye, those guys have the ability to make Gilbert, Caron and Antawn better."
The Wizards are left with the 32nd pick in the draft, which Grunfeld said the team will consider using to add some front-court depth. He added that the team could trade out of the draft altogether and address adding a veteran big man later this summer.
The trade leaves the roster with an imbalance of guards and perimeter players. Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee are the only players on the roster taller than 6-10. A person familiar with the trade discussions said that the Wizards had hoped to include guard DeShawn Stevenson in the deal, but the Timberwolves requested Songaila instead. Stevenson is still recovering from back surgery in March.
Grunfeld said that while Saunders and former Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman know Miller and Foye well, it wasn't why the Wizards made the deal. "We have familiarity, but the reason we made the trade is because we have two very good basketball players," Grunfeld said.