Ernie Grunfeld, the Washington Wizards' president of basketball operations, said when he was hired a year ago that he would take his time sizing up the team's talent before making any major changes. Apparently, he's seen enough.
The Wizards acquired Antawn Jamison on Wednesday from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for forwards Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the team's first-round draft choice (No. 5 overall). The deal became official last night after Washington selected Wisconsin point guard Devin Harris, a pick that made far more sense for the Mavericks' plans than its own.
"He gives us great leadership, an inside presence, an inside scorer," Grunfeld said of Jamison. "He doesn't need the basketball in his hands. He moves very well without the ball and can score in a variety of different ways. He plays the three spot [small forward] or the four [power forward]. We're really pleased to get a player of his caliber."
The trade created enormous buzz around the league and many observers predicted that Grunfeld, with a reputation as a consummate dealmaker, was likely just beginning to reshape the Wizards.
It's difficult to decipher from the transaction what direction Grunfeld, the former general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, may be steering the Wizards.
Jamison provides the Wizards with sorely needed offensive punch but is not a great defender. He can play power forward, which could allow the Wizards to move Kwame Brown to the center position, something Washington Coach Eddie Jordan is considering, a source said.
"[Jamison] proved what kind of guy he is by agreeing to a bench role," said Steve Kerr, a television analyst and former NBA player. "It's rare to see a big scorer make those kind of sacrifices and Jamison is a big-time scorer. I like the trade."
Jamison, one of the league's top scorers before joining the Mavericks last season, averaged 22.3 points a game for the Golden State Warriors in the three years prior.
The Wizards averaged 91.8 points a game but gave up an average of 97.4. Guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, both former teammates of Jamison's at Golden State, were Washington's two top guards and averaged 19.6 and 18.8 points a game, respectively, but any time either was out of the lineup the Wizards struggled to score.
Washington is hoping some of Jamison's habit of unselfish play rubs off on some of the team's younger players.
That none of the Wizards' younger players was included in the trade may be a sign that Grunfeld isn't ready to abandon the youth movement that was initiated by Wes Unseld.
Players such as Brown, 22, Brendan Haywood, 24, and Jared Jeffries, 23, continued to struggle last season but also showed improvement.
"This is the big gamble for Ernie," said Kerr. "It's hard to predict how long before this team becomes a playoff contender. He's got Kwame and Gilbert Arenas, talented players. Arenas is going to star in this league but the question is whether he becomes a true team leader."
Grunfeld is unlikely to wait too long to shift direction should he become dissatisfied with the players' progress. He has a history of blowing up rosters.
While general manager of the Bucks, he sent three of the team's top players packing -- Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell -- in one year. The trades yielded Gary Payton, Toni Kukoc and a No. 1 pick used on rising star T.J. Ford.
He also moved quickly to rid the Wizards of Laettner and Stackhouse, two players who management considered divisive influences in the locker room last season, according to two sources on the club.
As to how the deal for Jamison got initiated, Grunfeld said: "I inquired about him a real long time ago, and this time of year, I have conversations about all kinds of different players. . . . Dallas knew that he was one of the players I had interest in, and in one of our conversations his name came up."
Grunfeld also said that with the Wizards already one of the NBA's youngest teams, they could not afford to take on another player who might take years to develop.
Stackhouse fell out of favor quickly, less than a year since he signed a two-year contract extension. Laettner's Washington-based agent, Lon Babby, said the accusations that the Wizards' leadership considered his client a troublemaker in the locker room were "greatly exaggerated." The Wizards cut Laettner's minutes last season, according to Babby, to give more playing time to some of the team's younger players.
"He had a great season two years ago, but his role on the team no longer made sense," said Babby. "They wanted to develop some of the younger guys. From very early on we fully expected to get traded after the season."
Grunfeld said when he first arrived that the team would not tolerate players with poor character.
Character apparently was less a concern when Grunfeld was with the Knicks.
In 1999, Grunfeld okayed a trade for Latrell Sprewell, who became one of the NBA's most controversial players not long before when he choked and threatened his then-coach P.J. Carlesimo.
The team's image took a beating in the media -- that was until Sprewell led the Knicks to victories.