The Washington Wizards are going to undergo a significant roster overhaul this summer. With eight unrestricted free agents and another restricted, that was always part of their plan. The question is whether the decision-makers will also change, especially after a disappointing season that, barring a miraculous finish, will conclude without a playoff berth.
Coach Randy Wittman’s future is uncertain because next season — the final year of his three-year contract — is only partially guaranteed, but Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is under contract for next season, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation, which strongly suggests that he will return for his 14th season as the franchise’s general manager.
Grunfeld, who turns 61 later this month, headed the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks’ front offices before the late Abe Pollin hired him in June 2003. He is now the NBA’s fifth longest-tenured chief executive. With five games remaining this season, Washington has posted a 440-605 record during Grunfeld’s tenure and haven’t won more than 46 games in a regular season.
The Wizards have advanced to the postseason in six of his campaigns, losing in the first round three times and in the second round the three others. The franchise hasn’t advanced to the Eastern Conference finals since 1979.
Keeping Grunfeld around allows him to carry out the gradual plan the organization crafted to take the next step in the NBA’s ranks, which hinges on acquiring top-flight talent this summer. While expectations were elevated with two straight postseason appearances only to fall flat during this season’s disappointment, the Wizards were always banking on this offseason to take a chance at adding Kevin Durant to its core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and, now, Markieff Morris. And if not Durant, then max-contract player via free agency or trade. It is a risk.
Grunfeld made decisions with salary cap flexibility in mind and targeted players as such. It was a significant reason the Wizards didn’t offer Paul Pierce a two-year deal last season, and made Morris, who is making just $8 million each of the next three seasons, a possibility at the trade deadline. It is not a coincidence that eight players on the roster will be off the books as unrestricted free agents this season.
At the same time, the Wizards were supposed to ascend , maybe get to 50 wins and a top-4 seed for homecourt advantage in the first round, this season and not plunge to 10th place in the Eastern Conference in John Wall’s sixth season. This season — for a variety of reasons — has been an absolute failure.
If Grunfeld does ultimately stay in Washington – and the chances of owner Ted Leonsis paying for two general managers for a year are extremely slim to none – his first assignment will be deciding whether to retain Wittman, whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season. Wittman is 174-198 in four-plus campaigns as Wizards head coach since replacing Flip Saunders during the 2011-12 campaign.