Ernie's Lament

Tempering the optimism of Wizards fans since 2012.

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Will Wizards Make Playoffs?

I forget, what’s Ernie’s goal this year?

Okay, okay. I kid.

As any reader of this blog can gather, I think making the playoffs next year, or any given year in isolation, means very little in and of itself. Ernie, who as mouthpiece of the franchise sets the agenda, has a stake in setting such a mediocre goal, especially in a contract year.

Unfortunately, many Wizards fans and writers follow suit, believing there is some intrinsic value to a playoff berth that results in a first or second round ouster. Little thought is given to the relationship between the misguided strategy of “winning now” (which is a misnomer, since it ultimately means losing early in the postseason) and what actually matters – building a team that can contend for a championship. Laughably, there’s little discussion of the latter whatsoever amongst Post writers and other Very Serious People. Most can only see as far as next season.

No wonder, then, that there is such unbridled optimism flowing. Jason Reid’s two latest pieces are a case in point. Declaring it a “new day” for Washington basketball, Reid lavished much praise on Ernie, who is supposedly having his “best run” since he came to town. Why such high marks? Because Ernie, after making the obvious yet unproven pick of Otto Porter and signing Martell to more than he’s probably worth, has put together a squad that “appears capable” of reaching the playoffs.

Appears capable? As in, might do something more than half the teams in the league do every year? Talk about setting the bar lower than the basement.

But I digress. Putting aside all talk of whether “winning now” is a worthwhile strategy, or whether we rightfully say a GM is having his “best run” when his team “appears capable” of making the playoffs, we might ask whether a postseason berth will, in fact, come to pass for the Wizards.

My guess is maybe verging on no.

Don’t get me wrong: the team is relatively solid. But even with the addition of Porter, this is basically the same squad as last year. While Reid is keen to talk about how much “depth” the Wizards have (why?), we remain one Nene or Wall injury away from irrelevance.

Meanwhile, the bottom end of the Eastern Conference will be much stronger this upcoming season. Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland and Milwaukee either have made, or likely will make, major offseason moves. Together with Washington, that makes five teams likely vying for the seventh and eighth seeds. It won’t be easy.

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Mike Wise Still Confused about Draft


In his latest piece, Mike Wise says the Wizards should draft Otto Porter. This marks a departure from his thinking a month ago, when he argued the Wizards should trade the pick for a veteran. It’s an apology of sorts and it’s good to see that Wise, after being taken to task, is no longer of the belief that Ernie should mortgage the future of the franchise just to make the playoffs next year.

But the apology falls flat in certain respects. For one, we must be clear. When Wise admonishes “some people” who were naïve enough to think that “Kevin Love or a player of his ilk” could be had for the third pick, he has to be talking about himself. Not only did Wise think that Greg Monroe was a possible trade target, which was fanciful enough – he literally thought Kevin Love was feasible.


In addition, Wise’s justification for why the Wizards should take Porter over Anthony Bennett is twisted. He says the Wizards should not take Bennett because Ernie and Randy Wittman only have next season to prove themselves and can’t gamble on the chance that Bennett will be the better player in three years.

Even granting that the short-term, personal needs of Ernie and Wittman justify a decision that impacts the team in the long-term (and that’s granting something that’s not true), Wise admits that Porter is no different than Bennett in terms of his impact next year. Porter, according to Wise, will take “a year or so” to be “a major contributor to the roster.”

Post columnists are trying desperately to sleep on Anthony Bennett. 

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Stat Boys Knew about Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard

The NBA finals have been incredible, but two names stand out for Wizards fans: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Both players have been nothing short of sensational for the Spurs – and both could have been drafted by Washington.

That’s unfair, you say. Who could have guessed that Danny Green, selected 46th overall in the 2009 draft, would have turned out so well? Actually, stat nerds were extremely high on Green. In a recent article, Kevin Pelton reminded readers that both he and John Hollinger had Green ranked eighth overall among that year’s draft crop. How’s that for foresight?

What of Kawhi Leonard, who was drafted 15th in the 2011 draft? Hollinger had him ranked fifth overall. And he was not at all high on Jan Vesely, placing him 17th overall, one slot after Chris Singleton. Seems appropriate.

With the draft one week away, Wizards fans should hope that Ernie is taking a more analytics-based approach to the draft this year, since his intuition has not served him well whatsoever in the past. Hopefully he pays some attention to Pelton’s rankings, which should be released shortly.

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Ernie’s “Win Now” Philosophy Seduces Jason Reid


No writer who covers the Wizards has been more consistently critical, and thoughtful, than Jason Reid. He has forcefully called for Ernie to be fired on multiple occasions, for example, taking him to task for his lack of accountability, his horrible decision-making in the draft, and his role in promoting a poor team culture.

It was with great disappointment, then, that Reid’s latest piece on the draft lacked the punch and insight that is typically the hallmark of his analysis on the Wizards. While his colleague Mike Wise argued that Ernie should trade the team’s lottery pick for a veteran in order to make the playoffs next year – and was roundly skewered by fans and writers for his shortsightedness – Reid offered somewhat of a hybrid position, which is no less faulty.

Unlike Wise, Reid says the Wizards should use the pick to draft Otto Porter. However, if Porter is no longer on the board, Reid reverts to Wise’s position. His argument for doing so has some glaring holes. Here are some questions:  

Why is Porter the only player the Wizards should pick? Reid lays out a decent case for why the Wizards should take him. But he offers no reason why other players, like Anthony Bennett or Nerlens Noel, fail to merit consideration. This is clearly not a one-player draft and the Wizards have needs at PF and C.  The omission of Anthony Bennett, in particular, is completely out of step with the Porter-Bennett debates happening among fans and experts.

Why is the goal of the Wizards dependent on whether or not Porter is available? Reid says Porter will help the Wizards now and in the future. Sure, okay. But if Porter isn’t available, Reid suggests the Wizards pivot away from the future and focus on the present as a “fallback plan.” This means trading for a “dependable veteran” to make the playoffs. Reid never explains why the Wizards should stop focusing on the future just because Porter isn’t available.

Who does Reid have in mind as a “dependable” veteran? I don’t know what’s worse – Wise’s unrealistic belief that the Wizards will be able to get Greg Monroe or Kevin Love in a trade, or Reid’s all too realistic goal of getting “a solid player with NBA experience who also must be a solid person.” Sounds to me like Randy Foye and Mike Miller all over again.

Why does the goal of making the playoffs next year justify trading this year’s lottery pick for a veteran? This is the fundamental question that Wise and Reid must face, and there really isn’t a good answer to it.

Why? First, the Wizards already have a good shot of making the playoffs, regardless of offseason moves. If healthy, the team could very well be above .500. So moving the pick seems unnecessary to reach the postseason.

Second, and more importantly, making the playoffs next year is meaningless in and of itself. The goal of NBA basketball is not to “make the playoffs” – it’s to win it all. Assembling a team to make the playoffs next year is one thing, and putting together a talented squad that is built to contend in the future is another. The Wizards could easily trade the lottery pick for a “dependable” veteran that will help push the team into the playoffs. But what’s the point of doing so if that takes the team further away from a ring in the long-run?

What’s so surprising about the latest Wise and Reid pieces is that neither mentions a championship. Both writers, like Ernie, are so completely impatient and fixated on next year that they’ve failed to place it in overall context of the team’s development. This is not how smart people talk about basketball. Here, for an example of that, is Sixers GM Sam Hinkie during his introductory press conference: “I start with an end in mind. In everything. And I’ll encourage our staff to do the same. The mantra here has been very clear, which is to compete for championships.”

When is the last time Ernie or any Post writers sounded like that? The current tune is a complete continuation of the status quo, with its emphasis on mediocrity rather than greatness. 

Let it be known once and for all: The goal of making the playoffs next year does not justify trading this year’s lottery pick for a veteran. The criterion for trading the pick is not if it helps the Wizards make the playoffs now, but if it makes the team a contender later. There might be good arguments for why moving the pick does that, but they have yet to be made.

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Why Shouldn’t the Wizards Draft Three Rookies?


New Rule: If Ernie, Randy Wittman and sports writers quickly form a consensus on anything related to the draft, question it.

Just before the draft lottery, Ernie flatly stated that the Wizards would not use all three of the team’s draft picks this year. In addition to the third overall selection, Washington has two second-round picks at 38 and 54.

Why this decision? Ernie mentioned the possibility of packaging both second-round picks to move up, which might be a good move depending on the board. But no real reason for not wanting to use all three picks was given, other than the tautological statement that Ernie and friends “don’t think we want to have three rookies on the roster next year.”

Then Randy Wittman, echoing Ernie’s sentiment a few days later, stated, “We don’t need three rookies.” Providing a little context, the head coach said the younger group of players on the team “still got a lot of developing to do.” He noted, “To add three more [rookies] to that group, I don’t think in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish in the next couple of years is beneficial.”

Not a single Wizards writer or blogger batted an eyelid. (Correction: Kyle Weidie of Truth About It sounded a critical note via Twitter). The story barely made a ripple and no analysis was provided. Surprising, given how important the draft is. Then comes J. Michael of CSN Washington, rubber-stamping the Ernie-Randy consensus by declaring the Wizards “young enough” and saying the second round “hasn’t been kind” to Ernie anyway.

Well, allow me to retort.

If the Wizards haven’t done well in the second round, and the draft as a whole really, the answer is not to quit drafting – it’s to get better at it. Ernie’s official bio (clocking in at 1,200 words) touts his “reputation as a top talent evaluator” (ummm), in part because of his “eye for finding talent in the second round” (UMMM), but his record is piss-poor. One only need look to newly hired Sixers GM Sam Hinkie to see an example of someone who can consistently spot talent later in the draft. In addition, Philadelphia has purchased its own D-League team to see to it that late draft picks are properly developed.

As for the notion that the Wizards are already too young, the team was the tenth youngest in the league last year, older than rising powerhouses Houston and Golden State, and barely younger than Indiana, Oklahoma City and Denver. Clearly, these teams are succeeding with young squads. The factor is talent, not youth.

Finally, there is Wittman’s assertion that rookies do not fit into the plans of the team for the “next couple of years,” which is so indicative of Ernie’s backwards and shortsighted “win now” philosophy. The team can’t spare any “years” to develop talent? What a joke. Washington is simply not going deep into the playoffs for a few more years, at best. The right rookie selected now, if developed properly, could undoubtedly be an asset at that time. (See Lance Stephenson, drafted 40th overall in 2010, above). 

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Trade Scenarios That Keep Wizards in the Top 11


The worst the Wizards could have done in the lottery was 11. Since most of us resigned ourselves to that fate before lucking out, and because the possibility of trading back is strong, it’s useful (and fun) to look at some potential trades (both plausible and implausible). These deals would involve the Wizards packaging the number 3 pick with a veteran and getting a later pick plus a better veteran in return.

4. Charlotte Bobcats

Target: Bismack Biyombo

Rationale: Bismack has only been so-so, but he’s still in development. He could provide some rebounding, defense and intensity off the bench. 

Plausibility: Low. I’d rather have him than Jan or Seraphin, but that’s not saying much. Still, if Charlotte is intent on drafting at three, it would be an upgrade for the Wizards player-wise, without slipping back so far in the draft. Makes sense depending on the board. 

5. Phoenix Suns

Target: Marcin Gortat

Rationale: Not much to support this trade, other than that Gortat is a beast and, unlike Okafor and Nene, under 30 (barely).

Plausibility: Very low. Unlikely that Ernie would want Gortat with Okafor and Nene entrenched. Additionally, Gortat becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season, so he could bounce after one year.

6. New Orleans Pelicans

Target: Ryan Anderson

Rationale: So, John Wall and Martell Webster want a stretch 4? Well, here he is. Anderson is a legit 6-10 PF who can shoot the three and do a little of everything. He’s also on a very reasonable long-term contract, locked up through 2015-16 for about $8.5 million/year. 

Plausibility: Low. New Orleans would be attracted to this deal because it would give them a chance to draft Ben McLemore or Victor Oladipo. Things don’t seem to be working out with Eric Gordon and he could be shipped elsewhere in another deal. But the Pelicans could be just as happy drafting Alex Len with the sixth pick.

7. Sacramento Kings

Target: Tyreke Evans

Rationale: Tryeke adds some much needed scoring. He’s not much of a shooter from long range, though he did show improvement last year. The Kings have been willing to listen to trade offers in the past.

Plausibility: Medium. If Ernie convinces himself that Tyreke can play the three, he fills a crucial need. If Sacramento (finally) deals DeMarcus Cousins, moving up puts them in a position to draft Anthony Bennett or Alex Len, who will likely be gone at seven. Trey Burke would also be in play.

8. Detroit Pistons

Target: Greg Monroe

Rationale: Monroe is a beast, he’s young, and he’s a solution at PF/C for the long-term. Secondarily, he’s a hometown product.

Plausibility: Low. The Monroe scenario has been mentioned in a bunch of places – but that doesn’t make it likely. Monroe is a rising star who could easily average 18/10 next year. Detroit could make this deal with Washington if Porter is still on the board, but even that seems a stretch.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves

Target: Derrick Williams

Rationale: Williams is a SF/PF who is super athletic and can do a bit of everything. His career so far has been up and down, but the potential is there and a fresh start could jolt him. He’s been rumored in trade talks before.

Plausibility: Medium. Supposedly Flip Saunders is enamored with Victor Oladipo, who won’t be around at nine. This would actually be a decent trade for the Wizards. I much prefer picking Porter or Bennett at three, but of the deals Ernie might swing, Williams could be a nice addition.

10. Portland Trailblazers

Target: Wesley Matthews

Rationale: He can shoot and plays with intensity. Ernie might convince himself that Wes, a two, can play the three.

Plausibility: Low. He’s pretty much a pure two.

11. Philadelphia Sixers

Target: Thaddeus Young

Rationale: Beastly, young, super athletic forward who plays lockdown defense and can score inside. He’s not much of a shooter, but the potential is there. He’s also on a reasonable long-term deal, locked up through 2014-15 at about $8.5 million/year, with a player option of $9.7 million in 2015-16.

Plausibility: Medium. This scenario has been mentioned elsewhere. Along with Derrick Williams, Thad has at least somewhat of a chance ending up in a Wizards jersey. He would complement Wall’s athleticism, giving Washington a faster-paced squad. Could make sense for Philadelphia if they want Oladipo, McLemore or Bennett, but Thad would be hard to part with.  

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Mike Wise Has Draft Déjà Vu


The venerated sports analyst, who backed Ernie’s horrible decision to trade the number five pick in the 2009 draft, calls for the Wizards to move the number three pick in the 2013 draft. His thinking now is just as faulty and shortsighted as it was then.

Let’s say there was a local sports writer, let’s call him Mike Wise, who once upon a time endorsed one of Ernie Grunfeld’s worst moves as Wizards GM, namely his decision to trade the number five pick in the 2009 draft for veterans Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

“It’s easy to knock this deal,” Wise wrote then, in all apparent seriousness. “But on second glance, really, how can you?”

Well, we all know how that turned out. The Wizards would go on to win 26 games that season and 23 the next. Miller and Foye would do little of anything in Washington. Oh, and the number five pick? It could have been Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson. Washington is still recovering to this day.

While Wise can’t really take the blame for the horrible outcome of the deal, the shortsightedness that went into his endorsement of it is his alone. His thinking at the time went something like this: a) the Wizards must “win now,” where winning is defined as the mediocre goal of getting to the playoffs; b) this must be the goal of the team because Ernie has something to prove, having gambled on resigning Gilbert the previous summer for $111 million; and c) since a lottery selection does not have value unless it can contribute to that goal, Ernie was was right to acquire “capable veterans” in Miller and Foye to do the job. 

Fast forward to the present. Miraculously, with only a 12.4 percent chance of doing so, the Wizards nabbed the number three pick in last night’s draft lottery. Instead of drafting from position 8-11 as expected, and deciding between a serious rookie project or trading out of the 2013 draft for a veteran, Washington now has a chance to add an actual building block.

So what does Mike Wise have to say this time around? You’d think, after the Miller/Foye fiasco of 2009, he would exercise some caution. In fact, you might think he’d never write an opinion piece about the Wizards front office again. But just the opposite has happened. In his latest column, Wise doubles down. He calls for the Wizards to trade the 2013 pick and justifies his opinion on arguments recycled from 2009, with some novel – and fanciful – tidbits sprinkled in.

In the end, all options with this pick should be explored. But if the pick is moved, it shouldn’t be on the basis of Mike Wise’s boneheaded arguments. He is becoming to basketball punditry what Ernie is to running a team.

“Win now.” Wise admits that Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo might be good additions to the team for years to come. “But,” writes Wise, “the Wizards don’t have years. They have next season. Postseason or bust. That’s it.”

That’s it…and then the Verizon Center explodes? The Armageddon-like sense of urgency and impatience is entirely nonsensical. Wise wants to achieve the mediocre goal of making the first or second round of the playoffs next season at all costs, even if that means forgoing the development of young talent and the possibility of contending for a title in the future. He literally makes no mention of a long-term plan and does not place the goal of “winning now” in broader context.

The irony in this, of course, is that the Wizards, by all accounts, are already a borderline playoff team on paper if healthy next year, regardless of off-season moves.

“Win now” because Ernie needs it. Some of the urgency expressed by Wise seems to be based on the fact that Ernie is in the last year of his contract. “Grunfeld can’t take a chance on this June’s No. 3 pick not being a key contributor this upcoming season,” Wise writes. “He has one year remaining on his contract with the team. He can plan for the future all he wants, but that’s a fact.”

Attn Mike: Nobody in Wizards Nation cares about Ernie’s situation. And the “fan base that hasn’t seen the playoffs in five years” is more interested in contending for a title rather than the short-term goal of making the playoffs. Wise’s impatience is his alone.

Draft picks have no value unless they help us “win now.” According to Wise, the pick should be traded because he doubts that any player selected by the Wizards “makes their mark next season.” Ernie should instead trade for a veteran “who could…help take this franchise to the second round for the first time since 2005.”

How stupid is this argument? Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki failed to take their teams to the playoffs in their rookie years. Does Wise believe these teams should have opted to trade out of the draft? So many examples of this kind can be found.

Wise then says that the lottery is risky because only “two players drafted since 2010 have been selected to the all-star game — Kyrie Irving and Paul George.” Does Wise think the Wizards failed in selecting John Wall and Bradley Beal because neither has made the all-star team yet?

In addition to these shopworn arguments, Wise threw in some novel ideas this time around:

Greg Monroe. Wise is pedaling the idea that the Wizards can trade their number three pick and Trevor Booker to Detroit for Greg Monroe and the number eight pick. Um, good luck with that. Why would Detroit make that trade? I really don’t see it happening. If Ernie can make it happen, all power to him.

Danny Granger. Wise mentions the possibility of getting Danny Granger back in a trade. Not only is Granger on the wrong side of 30 and suffering from serious knee issues - he’s slated to make $14 million next year. Not sure the Wizards can take on that kind of salary. Why? Because Ernie adopted the “win now” philosophy, took on massive contracts in Nene, Okafor and Ariza, and thereby squandered our cap space.

Anthony Bennett. Why is Anthony Bennett not mentioned in Wise’s article? He’s clearly on the radar, even more so than Oladipo. It’s an amateurish omission, chiefly in service of the “hometown” angle Wise is trying to propagate. Yes, some sentimental fans would be excited by drafting Porter or Oladipo because they are local products. But that’s not why fans want to keep the pick.

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Sam Hinkie Is the Anti-Ernie – And the Sixers Are Closer to Contending


Last week the Sixers made major front-office moves, hiring former Houston Rockets VP Sam Hinkie as the team’s new GM.

While many NBA experts heralded the personnel shakeup as a smart, bold decision on the part of Sixers owner Josh Harris, not a single Wizards blog picked up the story. Odd, given the boiling resentment with Ernie and the fact that Philly, a perennial underachiever like Washington, is the next basketball town over.

Meanwhile, most Sixers fans were elated with Hinkie’s arrival, and rightfully so. He’s a number-crunching, analytics-obsessed nerd who left the Rockets with one of the best pools of young talent in the NBA.

Of course, the distinction between traditional “basketball guys” and newfangled Moneyballers is a bit overdrawn. “When we talk about analytics, we’re not talking about going into the back room with a bunch of computers,” according to Sixers owner Josh Harris.

Using a combination of traditional scouting and advanced metrics, Hinkie is able to see draft talent where others don’t. His astounding history of second round picks in Houston includes the likes of Chandler Parsons, Chase Budinger, Carl Landry and Steve Novak. He also engineered the trades that brought in James Harden, Donatas Motiejūnas and Thomas Robinson.

But what’s just as important as Hinkie’s talent-scouting ability is his philosophy, which is shared by Harris. Patience, building a process, taking smart risks, and eschewing the goal of mediocrity to build a real contender. “If you just want to be slightly above average, that’s easy to do. You can go out and overpay for free agents,” according to Hinkie. (Read: You don’t trade for contracts like Nene, Okafor, or Ariza).

And when it comes to the draft, Hinkie clearly does not subscribe to Ted and Ernie’s backward strategy of picking according to need or, in Ted’s words, “Draft players that fit the system, not the best player. Draft the best player for the system.” That’s right, our owner says not to draft the best player. This is clearly not Hinkie’s thinking. “I think there are obvious needs,” he said recently. “Various positions - a backup ‘1’, more bigs - I’m unlikely to let that drive me. I will say that. I’m unlikely to let that particular niche that you need to fill drive me.”

What of advanced analytics and the Wizards? The team has dipped a toe into the pool, spending money to acquire SportVU technology. At one point the front office had a stats nerd in Joe Sill, though it’s unclear if he’s still there and was never given much visibility in the first place.

This is clearly Ernie’s doing. Lacking intuition and skill in traditional scouting, he has been anywhere from bumbling to resistant when it comes to advanced analytics. When interviewed in 2009, he admitted that the team did not have an internal stats nerd, but said “we use some services to do some statistical things for us.” Oh great.

Since then, as the analytics trend has grown throughout the league, Ernie has started to talk the talk a little more. But he remains completely opaque when it comes to how, if at all, the numbers are influencing his decisions. Apparently, when it comes to talent evaluation, he either disregards the metrics or can’t read the tea leaves.

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Fallacy: Trade the Lottery Pick Because Ernie Sucks at Drafting


There’s no doubt that Ernie has a piss-poor draft record. In fact, his portfolio of suck is truly unparalleled in this regard. Aside from the obvious picks of John Wall in 2010 and Bradley Beal in 2012, Ernie has whiffed at every opportunity in the draft. Here’s a refresher on recent history:

2011 Draft: Ernie selects Jan Vesely (6), Chris Singleton (18) and Shelvin Mack (34), passing over Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Donatas Motiejūnas, Kenneth Faried, Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas.

2009 Draft: Ernie trades away the Wizards 5th pick, which could have been Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson.

2008 Draft: Ernie selects Javale McGee (18) and Bill Walker (47), passing over JJ Hickson, Courtney Lee, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, George Hill, Nikola Peković, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik and Goran Dragić.

2007 Draft: Ernie selects Nick Young (16) and Dominic McGuire (47), passing over Wilson Chandler, Rudy Fernandez, Carl Landry and Marc Gasol.

2006 Draft: Ernie selects Oleksiy Pecherov (18) and Vladimir Veremeenko (48), passing over Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Shannon Brown, Steve Novak and Paul Milsap.

Some Wizards fans and writers have concluded, on the basis of Ernie’s unparalleled proclivity for drafting busts, that the team should trade away this year’s pick for a veteran. This sentiment is common, but here’s one example from an informative roundtable discussion over at Wizards Extreme:

If it’s a top 5 pick I would keep it, but anything else I would be open to moving it. Grunfeld’s drafting has been sketchy at best and putrid at worst — no need to start listing names and embarrassing people *cough* Olekisy Pecherov. With Ernie’s less than stellar draft track record and a less than stellar draft class, if the pick can be moved for a selection in next year’s draft, then I’d pull the trigger.

I’m not necessarily against trading into next year’s draft. However, the argument for doing so, while understandable, is fallacious, since it accepts Ernie retaining his position as an inevitable fact. But that’s not the case at all. While Ernie, contrary to all common sense, remains the seventh longest tenured GM in the NBA, and sadly has one year left on his contract, Leonsis could just as easily replace him now, and should. Especially when presented with the choice between a lottery pick that could bring much needed talent to the team, on the one hand, and a GM who has proven himself horrible at evaluating talent, on the other.

Of course, the ability to evaluate talent is also essential if the Wizards are going to trade this year’s pick for a veteran. Obviously, somebody on the level of Mike Miller or Randy Foye is not going to cut it. I sincerely doubt that Ernie, or really any GM, would able to get somebody like Kevin Love or Greg Monroe, as some have suggested. The veteran we get back is likely to be more borderline than that, which is all the more reason the Wizards need a GM with a keen eye for talent.   

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The Rebuild That Never Happened


The expressed desire of Randy Wittman, John Wall and Martell Webster to add a veteran to the team in the offseason, and potentially trade this year’s lottery pick, received some coverage and criticism the past few days.

But even more noteworthy, though not at all discussed, was Webster’s related declaration that the Wizards have “already been through the rebuilding stage.” This statement struck like a punch to the gut. It was the horribly sad truth I already knew deep down but didn’t want to accept or hear out loud, especially from a member of the organization.

And the sad truth was this: Ted and Ernie, whom I will now refer to as Ternie, robbed Washington of the authentic rebuild that would have made the Wizards a better team in the long-run, and implemented in its stead a faux rebuild that, now supposedly complete, will turn us into just another Ernie Grunfeld team.

How did this come to pass?

It’s basically a matter of philosophy. The Wizards roster, with the exception of Wall and cheap contracts, was rightfully gutted in 2012. But then Ternie adopted, or always believed in, the humble objective of putting together a “competitive” team, by which I mean a team that will perennially lose in the first or, if lucky, second round of the playoffs. It’s the competitive philosophy that inspired and justified the trades for Nene, Okafor and Ariza. We went old instead of young, cap poor instead of cap rich. And if Ternie trades out of this year’s draft for a veteran, it will be a continuation of this thinking.

Of course, the competitive philosophy promulgated by Ternie, with its professed and obsessed goal of “getting to the playoffs,” is taken for granted by many Wizards fans and writers, since our team has sucked so bad for so long. If we can just “get to the playoffs,” then all will be well and the mission accomplished. These are basically the terms in which the faithful of a defeated, historically underachieving franchise such as our own are led to think. It should come as no surprise, then, that in today’s first off-season press conference, Ernie continuously brandished the word “competitive” and trotted out his annual postseason declaration: “There is no question that our goal for next year is to make the playoffs.” 

I’d like to suggest that Ternie’s competitive philosophy is thoroughly ass backwards. A team, by virtue of being in the National Basketball Association, is ipso facto competitive. And getting to the playoffs in a league where over 50% of teams make the postseason is not a measure of accomplishment anyway. But the bankruptcy of the competitive philosophy can be made clearer still by contrasting it to a “contending” philosophy, defined as the belief in building a team that can get to the conference finals and beyond. That’s what’s needed to have a shot at winning a championship. And that, as opposed to merely “getting to the playoffs” every year, is the real goal. Right?

Clearly, had they adopted a contending philosophy, Ternie’s personnel moves would have been different. A competitive team does not magically or even incrementally become a contending one after a certain amount of time, as Leonsis seems to believe. Rather, these two philosophies inspire completely different decisions and development paths.

Under a contending program, Ternie would not have traded for Nene, Okafor and Ariza, thereby short-circuiting the authentic rebuild for some sort of short-term gain of “winning now.” Instead, Ternie would have swallowed the bitter pill of sucking now, taking back young talent and draft picks (for last year, this year, or the historically stacked draft of 2014), supplemented by smart veteran free agent signings (like Martell Webster).

In all likelihood, under such a scenario, the Wizards would have finished this season with a poorer record, and thus a real chance to get a building block in this year’s draft, a la Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett (none of whom the Wizards will get a look at unless they somehow get lucky in the lottery). The Wizards also would have had a great deal of cap space, giving them the flexibility to either go after a major free agent in 2013, such as Paul Milsap, or bank that money for 2014.

Anyway you slice it, a contending philosophy and an authentic rebuild would have led to a much more talented Wizards roster for 2015 and beyond, and let’s not kid ourselves that anything of note is happening with this franchise in the postseason before that time. Ernie might believe that “now we have a foundation” - but that’s only true in the sense of getting to the playoffs, not going deep. The latter requires more talent than a faux rebuild is likely to garner.

For fun (or misery), we can look at the rebuild that never happened, speculating what the 2015 Wizards roster might look like under competitive and contending philosophies. This exercise assumes that the Wizards will slip into the playoffs in 2014 on the current trajectory. There are also obviously some major unknowns: 1) What mix of picks/young talent Ernie could have gotten back for the pieces he moved in 2012; 2) What Ernie will do with the expiring contracts of Okafor and Ariza; 3) What Ernie might get for trading out of this year’s draft; and 4) What Ernie might eventually do with Nene and his albatross of a contract. 

Which roster is more poised to make a title run?