It's time to update the Wizards general manager search. Perhaps the most prominent available candidate is off the board.
David Griffin, who led the Cavaliers’ front office during the team’s 2016 NBA Championship season, is set to become the executive VP of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans, ESPN reported Friday.
Griffin served as an NBA analyst since leaving Cleveland in 2017. While not the hottest rumored candidate for the Wizards opening, Griffin expressed general interest in the position and the opportunity to work with owner Ted Leonsis, sources told NBC Sports Washington.
Instead, Griffin lands with the Pelicans. New Orleans interviewed several front office types for the position including their interim GM Danny Ferry, Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon and Wizards senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard.
When the regular season ended this week, the Wizards, Pelicans, Suns and Timberwolves were the teams with front office openings. Plenty changed since beyond Griffin's hire.
You may have heard, but Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as the Lakers team president. Chaotic as the scene may be in LA, the opening suddenly becomes the league’s most desirable. Immediate buzz named Griffin among the top replacement candidates primarily because of his prior history with Lakers star LeBron James.
Phoenix removed the interim tag and gave James Jones its GM job Thursday.
On April 2, Leonsis revealed he would consult with a search firm to aid in finding Grunfeld’s replacement. The Wizards aren’t necessarily racing against these teams – Leonsis expects a three-week or so reflection period – but some target overlap is inevitable though perhaps not with the lone official candidate.
That would be Sheppard, now the interim head of Washington’s front office following the firing of longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld. Leonsis immediately declared Sheppard in the mix following the Grunfeld news.
While loud portions of the Wizards fan base show skepticism because of his lengthy work history with Grunfeld, Sheppard is well respected around the league. Several organizations brought him in for GM interviews in recent seasons. Moving Sheppard into the lead role would increase the use of analytics and other innovative methods.
Ferry, the son of former Bullets GM Bob Ferry, and Langdon are among the other names frequently mentioned by league sources along with Nuggets president Tim Connelly and Thunder VP of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver.
Connelly, a Baltimore native, began his NBA career as an intern with the Wizards in 1996. After a stint in New Orleans, he joined Denver in 2013. The Nuggets became of the league’s most impressive stories this season, and enter the postseason as the two-seed in the challenging Western Conference.
Leaving a situation poised for a multi-season run of success for a Wizards team coming off a 32-50 season and perhaps without injured guard John Wall for most of next season seems surprising on the outside. Sources tell NBC Sports Washington that personal considerations make the idea of returning to the area attractive for Connelly.
Langdon’s potential stands out considering the obstacles facing the next hire.
The former Duke star and NBA veteran served as a scout for three years with San Antonio before becoming Brooklyn’s assistant GM in 2016. Langdon and Nets GM Sean Marks inherited a dismal situation in Brooklyn after the team traded away numerous first-round picks in the 2014 trade with Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Thanks to a series of creative trades – acquiring draft picks attached to unwanted contracts – Brooklyn improved from 20 wins in 2016-17 to a 42-40 record this season and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Washington’s challenges are different, but creativity is required. Wall’s injury recovery occurs while his $170 million supermax contract kicks in next season. All-Star Bradley Beal may become eligible for a supermax if named to the All-NBA team this year. Beal is the lone proven high-rotation player on the roster heading into next season, and yet the Wizards might not have more than approximately $20 million in cap space depending on what happens with their free agents this summer.
Boston assistant GM Mike Zarren is another reported candidate, but the lifelong Celtics fan leaving the organization after 14 years would surprise some near the team.
Some team snagging Griffin or franchise turmoil elsewhere is the opposite of surprising. Just don’t be shocked if other organizations start pushing the pace now that one of the biggest GM names available went off the board.
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