It turns out that patience indeed does pay off.
After 14 seasons as the Washington Wizards general manager, an Ernie Grunfeld team finally reached the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
When will the Washington Post be awarding him its patient sports executive of the year honor?
The Wizards got farther this season than any time since 1979 – one game more than two years ago, when they were bounced by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round in Game 6.
This time, it was the Boston Celtics in Game 7.
This fan base is so damaged, so depressed, that it, with the help of the media cheerleaders in town, has convinced itself that Grunfeld — after 14 seasons and a won-loss record of 492-638 — has this franchise going in the right direction.
In fact, he is the roadblock to that direction, the arsonist fireman who sets the team on fire with one bad decision after another — signing Andrew Nicholson to a four-year, $26 million contract last offseason, for instance — and then getting credit for trading him to the Brooklyn Nets eight months later for Bojan Bogdanovic.
For those who celebrated that deal, Washington also gave up its first-round pick in this upcoming draft.
If the talk about moving in the right direction sounds familiar, go back two years ago after their second-round loss to the Hawks. “This franchise is definitely headed in the right direction as far as getting respect in the near future,” Paul Pierce told reporters shortly before he left for Los Angeles to avoid going in the same direction with the Wizards. “A lot of years, people didn’t respect the Washington Wizards. But I think now, when people saw this year, moving forward with the nucleus here, this is going to be a franchise to reckon with.”
Yet, despite all the accolades — all the newfound respect — they have no real results, no real progress, to back that respect.
Why? What led to the Game 7 115-105 loss to Boston Monday night? A number of reasons, but Grunfeld remains the biggest one.
You could argue the Wizards lost this series during last year’s free agency, when the general manager couldn’t close the deal and convince Al Horford to come to Washington instead of Boston.
It’s simple math — Al Horford in Washington instead of Al Horford in Boston.
The job of the general manager is to recruit talent. Grunfeld failed.
Al Horford’s father, Tito, told reporters he chose Boston because of the atmosphere. “There wasn’t as much motivation for him when he saw all the empty seats when they (Atlanta) were winning. He said to me, ‘Dad, when we were playing Boston, they were down 15 points and they were cheering their team like they were winning the game. They’re so into the game.’ This is special for us, especially for him.’”
Your hero, John Wall, during the Kevin Durant free agency debacle, tried to put the blame for the lack of fan passion on the fans themselves — a criminal accusation that some of the media who carry this franchise’s water in this town have supported. Given the damage that Grunfeld has done — and the decades of failure before him — it’s remarkable the basketball teams gets the support it does.
You can’t trot out the history of this team as a well to glorify its 49-win season without recognizing the damage the decades of failure have done.
Now Wall himself. He clearly ran out of gas at the end, with an embarrassing close out performance – zero points in the fourth quarter.
Boston’s Marcus Smart told reporters that Wall “definitely” wore down, according to MassLive.com. Smart said his coaches told them, “He’s going to wear down. In Game 7, legs are gone.”
That blame — the lack of a bench — is at Grunfeld’s feet as well.
Wall, coming off two knee surgeries, finished sixth in the league in minutes played, averaging 36.73 per game. You had to go down to 27th to find a Celtic on the minutes played list — Isiah Thomas, with 34.09 minutes per game.
Because of their 2-8 start, Wizard coach Scott Brooks had to abandon the plan to bring Wall along slowly in his playing time recovering from knee surgery, and the woeful bench that Grunfeld gave him left Brooks with no options but to keep Wall on the court.
Sometimes benches are developed as the season progresses from a franchise’s D-League squad, as teams experiment with a variety of players, looking for the right contributor. Monday, it was announced that the Los Angeles Clippers purchased a D-League team, giving 26 of 30 NBA teams a franchise. One of the organization’s without a D-League team? Washington.
That one is on owner Ted Leonsis, who will likely reward Grunfeld, as they bask in the glow together in glory of patience.
⦁ Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.
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