In preparing for today's NBA draft, Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld took scouting trips to Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, worked out several prospects from major college basketball programs and perused a list of potential draftees coming out of high school.
The Wizards, who aren't scheduled to select until the second round (49th pick overall), could take a player from just about anywhere.
"During the first round, I'll just be sitting there watching right along with everyone else," Grunfeld joked last week at his MCI Center office.
While Grunfeld has not ruled out working a trade to acquire more picks -- perhaps even a first-rounder -- it's very possible that the Wizards will not be a big player in the draft for the first time since 2000.
In 2001, the Wizards made history when they became the first team in NBA history to draft a high school player, Kwame Brown, with the first overall pick. In 2002, they held two first-round picks, selecting Jared Jeffries at No. 11 and Juan Dixon at No. 17. In 2003, they selected Jarvis Hayes at No. 10.
Last year, Grunfeld worked a blockbuster trade the day before the draft, sending the fifth overall pick (Devin Harris) to Dallas along with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner in exchange for Antawn Jamison. The acquisition of Jamison along with the development of recent draft picks such as Jeffries, Dixon and Hayes helped propel the Wizards to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
With no gaping holes to fill heading into this draft, the Wizards will have the luxury of selecting the best player available. Past NBA drafts have produced second-round steals like Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who was taken by Golden State with the 31st pick in 2001; San Antonio swingman Manu Ginobili, who went 57th overall in 1999; and Philadelphia three-point specialist Kyle Korver, who went 51st in 2003. Such stars as Detroit's Ben Wallace and Sacramento's Brad Miller weren't drafted at all.
With his second pick last year (the 32nd), Grunfeld selected 7-foot-2 center Peter John Ramos. As a rookie, the 20-year-old Ramos played in only six regular season games and did most of his learning in practice. But Ramos was drafted with a long-range view in mind, and the Wizards are eager to see him get game experience in summer league play later this summer.
Grunfeld is also excited about the provision in the new collective bargaining agreement that will allow teams to send a first- or second-year player to the National Basketball Development League if he isn't getting meaningful playing time with his NBA team. If such a provision were in place last season, a raw talent such as Ramos could have been picking up playing time in the NBDL instead of watching games from the bench in warmups.
"I've always believed that player development is absolutely crucial to a franchise," Grunfeld said. "You can do some things with trades and free agency but you have to develop your own players. I think you've seen some of our young guys really improve the last couple of seasons. What we've tried to create is a culture of hard work and commitment and we've put a premium on working with our young players."
Grunfeld has a track record of finding gems in the draft's second round. As general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, Grunfeld selected Michael Redd with the 43rd overall pick in 2000. As is the case with many second-rounders, the selection of Redd didn't pay off immediately. As a rookie, Redd played in six games but he did, as Grunfeld put it, "work his tail off." In 2001-02, Redd cracked the starting lineup and by 2004, he was an all-star. Grunfeld also landed a pair of solid second-rounders in Jason Hart (2000) and Ronald Murray (2002) during his time with the Bucks.
"There's no secret to finding guys at the back end of the draft," Grunfeld said. "Sometimes, you just have to get lucky. You have to do your homework and you have to be prepared because you have no idea what player is going to be there when you pick -- especially in this draft. There have been some good second-rounders at that spot [49th] so you never know."