For the first time since he took over as general manager of the Washington Wizards nearly 10 years ago, Ernie Grunfeld is entering an NBA draft in which three of the projected top six picks have local ties.
Grunfeld only needed to take a few steps from his office to see Otto Porter Jr. play home games for Georgetown at Verizon Center. Alex Len was a short drive up Route 1 to Maryland. And Victor Oladipo played high school basketball at DeMatha before starring at Indiana.
At least one — or perhaps all three — will be available when the Wizards choose the No. 3 overall pick on Thursday at Barclays Center, but Grunfeld said that he doesn’t feel any added pressure to pick a player because fans in the area are already familiar with him.
“No. Why should I?” Grunfeld said at a news conference in advance of the NBA draft on Tuesday at Verizon Center. “We’re going to take the player that we feel is going to help us the most long term.”
Porter, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett and Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel all came to Washington to meet with the Wizards since the team moved up five spots in the NBA draft lottery. Grunfeld didn’t offer any hints about where he is leaning with the draft quickly approaching, but at least seemed committed to using the selection after admitting that the team has had discussions about dealing the pick.
“That’s what you do at this time of year,” Grunfeld said with a laugh. “We’ve had some interesting conversations, and if something comes along that we feel can help our team, long term, as well as short term, it’s something we’ll look at. But we also feel good about the player that may be available to us at three.”
The Wizards have spent countless hours during the past few months watching games, reviewing film, hosting workouts, having dinners, holding interviews and speaking with family members and coaches to get a full picture of nearly every prospect available in the draft. They never met with Kansas guard Ben McLemore and didn’t visit Oladipo in Bowie after he declined an invitation, but few secrets remain about the players who might be available to them.
Pat Connelly, the team’s former director of player personnel, left to become assistant general manager of the Phoenix Suns earlier this month but he left behind his notes and the team has gathered enough information to make an informed decision. The rankings on the draft board are still being finalized as the team hopes to find the next piece to help the franchise end a five-year playoff drought.
“We’ve seen all of the players and I think we have a pretty good feel for them,” Grunfeld said. “It’s a total package that you’re looking at and you’re evaluating. [We] want players that work hard, that are committed, that are going to buy in, that are team-oriented and that have the ability to fit into what we’re trying to do. . . . Obviously a player has to be able to play the game, but also the intangibles are important.”
Grunfeld has selected one all-star in 22 years as a general manager — Michael Redd, taken 43rd overall in 2000 by Milwaukee — but his past two top-three picks, John Wall and Bradley Beal, have shown promise and already appear to have established themselves as the back court of the present and future in Washington. Beal, Wall and center Nene only played 22 games together last season, when the Wizards started 4-28 but won half of their final 50 games.
“What we want to do is add a player that we feel can be part of this core, of this nucleus, that we’re building,” he said. “We feel good about our young back court of John and Bradley moving forward, and we’d like to add another piece here that will be here for years to come.
“We feel good about the chemistry that we’ve established and we feel good about the progress that our team made toward the end of the year,” Grunfeld added. “We feel good about going into next year and our goal, as we stated, is to get back to the playoffs.”
The Wizards also have picks No. 38 and 54 in the second round, but Grunfeld said he doesn’t expect the team to have three rookies on the roster next season. “If you look at the players that we have and the players in the positions we want to fill, it’s not going to allow roster spots for so many players who are inexperienced.”
The upcoming draft has been deemed bereft of marquee talent, but Grunfeld wasn’t ready to declare the 2013 class weak just because there is no clear-cut No. 1 overall pick.
“I think it’s a deep draft,” Grunfeld said. “You can get players all the way into the 20s that can come in and possibly help at some point. You might not have a player that’s going to come in and make an impact right away, but you have some really solid talents that can come in and be part of a nucleus to several different teams.”