Quick Links

Morning tip: Leonsis lauds Grunfeld for following game plan

Morning tip: Leonsis lauds Grunfeld for following game plan

That Ernie Grunfeld would remain as president of the Wizards after a failed season outside of the playoffs was shocking to many, but it shouldn't have been. For the last two months, including what had been reported at CSNmidatlantic.com, barring an 11th-hour change of heart majority owner Ted Leonsis wasn't making any changes. He always had a contract. Wednesday, Leonsis made his position official with the decision-making process that led to the firing of Randy Wittman as coach, hiring Scott Brooks to replace him and keeping Grunfeld on board. 

The only person's approval that Grunfeld needed was that of Leonsis who is more than satisifed over what he called a five-year plan to build the Wizards into a perennial playoff team that can eventually compete for a spot in the NBA Finals.

"Not really because we were executing to the plan," said Leonsis when asked if he considered making changes in the front office. "If we had varied from the plan and the plan didn’t work then I think I would’ve been within my realm of my responsibility to take a look. We were executing a plan we agreed to when I bought the team five years ago."

The result was Grunfeld heading up the coaching search that didn't take long when they settled on Brooks. It was a 10-hour meeting in Newport Beach, Calif., where Brooks lives, to hammer out the details last week.

Leonsis, who had a minority stake previously, became majority owner of the franchise in 2010. He only cares about what has taken place with Grunfeld since his ascension. The Wizards won 23 games in 2010-11 and still had malcontents such as Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young. That was Phase I, aka Deconstruction.

Unlike what happened when Leonsis cleaned house with his other franchise's coach and GM a year ago, the NHL's Capitals, Grunfeld followed orders perfectly and has made it all work. 

"The one thing that I will say from a leadership standpoint is we articulated a plan in the NHL with the Caps. The only times we deviated from the plan and it didn’t work that’s when I felt management was at risk," Leonsis said. "We said we wanted to be young, we wanted to have depth and we wanted balance and we wouldn’t trade young for old. On a few occasions when we traded young for old or rental players and it didn’t work that ended up being a setback for us. We really looked at that."

Grunfeld pulled off a crafty move for Markieff Morris at the trade deadline in Leonsis' view. The Wizards essentially traded a first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns that will be 13th overall for a starting power forward with stretch capability who is 26 and under contract for just $8 million per through 2019. The likelihood of a college player who is no older than 20 being as good or with as high of a ceiling isn't good. The likelihood of getting a player of Morris' quality in free agency this summer at that pricetag? Impossible. And the deal with the Suns that brought in Marcin Gortat before the 2013-14 season for a pick that turned out to be Tyler Ennis worked in Grunfeld's favor, too.

The trade that shipped aged and slowed Andre Miller to the Sacramento Kings for Ramon Sessions as a backup point guard also held to that principle and worked.

"The big decision on this one was the trade we made this year when we traded a pick for Morris. I looked at that one really hard. Was that one on strategy or off strategy? Who did we get for Gortat. Would I trade Gortat for Ennis? The answer is yes," Leonsis said. "It’s interesting in the exit interviews how the team really liked, admired, wanted to play with Morris."

Grunfeld met his benchmarks by fulfilling Leonsis' playoffs-or-else demand in 2013-14 with a 44-win season and a 46-win season after that for their second consecutive appearance in the East semifinals. 

This season was a disaster by those standards, a 41-41 record and no playoff berth that led to Wittman's firing. Still, they're not overextended financially, are major players in the free-agent market and have a nucleus of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Morris, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre. As many as nine roster spots will come open when free agency hits July 1. 

Gortat filled a void that was created when Emeka Okafor ended up with a neck injury that effectively ended his career just before the regular season began. The Wizards had to move quickly and didn't have a lot of wiggle room. With Morris' acquistion on top, they're set up long-term.

"We used that pick but it wasn’t for a player at the end of this career. He still has that upside. We continue to execute on the plan," Leonsis said. "When you can take a step back and say, ‘Is the plan right?’ That’s the big question you have to ask. With the Caps what I learned was the plan was right. It’s when we deviated from the plan we got off bounds. …We’ve stayed on their plan. If they’d gone off that plan we’d probably be having a different discussion right now."

Quick Links

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!


Quick Links

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 

The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall remains out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.


The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.

The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home-court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.


By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!