- The Washington Times
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Evading questions is an art with multiple tiers. One strategy is to ask questions in response to a question. That can prompt the interviewer to begin talking about themselves while limited time with a subject ticks away.

Another model is the short, terse answer. Think running back Marshawn Lynch’s stance when he was full anti-media mode.

Last is the generalization. This takes it own form of mastery and was put on display Wednesday afternoon by Wizards team president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld.

Grunfeld had not spoken in a group setting with reporters for almost a year. The last time he handled a local gaggle was July 27, 2016, when the Wizards gleefully announced Bradley Beal’s maximum contract extension. Since, Grunfeld has been around, amicable during side conversations and occasionally available for one-on-one talks with reporters.

Wednesday, he was in front of the team’s promotional backdrop in the Verizon Center. Once prospect Alpha Kaba finished talking, Grunfeld stepped in. He addressed the news that Washington had become the 27th team in the NBA to buy a G League team (formerly the D-League). Then, the back-and-forth began.

Grunfeld’s contract is one of local sports’ white whales. Terms are constantly hunted for, but rarely exposed. Asked Wednesday if he had recently received an extension or what the timeline on his contract was, Grunfeld said, “I am under contract, yes.”

Until when?

“Until I’m not.”

Then, he laughed.

Moving through other topics — from the state of the Eastern Conference to his desire to keep All-Star point guard John Wall long term — Grunfeld answered, but did not.

Would he like to talk to Wall, who has two seasons remaining on his contract, this summer about an extension?

“At the appropriate time, we’ll sit down with John,” Grunfeld said. “We want John to finish his career here. He’s our franchise guy. Him and Bradley have done a great job of improving and leading this ball club.”

Has he spoken with disgruntled Marcin Gortat?

“March is with us,” Grunfeld said. “We’ve had him for four years. He’s averaged a double-double for four years. Everybody has frustration after a tough loss and tough series. March is with us and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing.”

How does he view the importance of bringing back Otto Porter, who will be a restricted free agent this summer?

“We’ve said all along we want to keep our core of young players together,” Grunfeld said. “Otto is an important part of what we’re trying to do. When free agency starts, we’ll see what we can do to work things out and keep him here.”

Like most general managers and team decision-makers, Grunfeld is not going to openly play his hand in public. June 30 will mark the 14th anniversary of Grunfeld being hired as president of basketball operations. He hasn’t been open with reporters in the past. It’s illogical to think he would start to now. However, that doesn’t make his reticence any less relevant.

Grunfeld was in line to make a decision Thursday night. Washington held the 52nd overall pick in what is shaping up to be an intrigue-packed draft. But, Grunfeld traded the pick Wednesday night for backup point guard Tim Frazier of New Orleans.

Big picture, he is working like the rest of the Eastern Conference to find a way to unseat Cleveland and LeBron James. That process could be expensive. Grunfeld said the Wizards, who are butting up against the salary cap, would consider moving into the luxury tax for the “right player.”

“I don’t think we have a problem going over,” Grunfeld said.

Washington won its division in 2017 for the first time since 1979. However, it has limited flexibility both in cash and personnel to make moves this offseason that would alter its place in the league’s hierarchy.

“We had one of the best seasons we’ve had here in long time,” Grunfeld said. “I think we’re pleased with that. I think our players really developed. We still have a very young core, a very young nucleus. Our core players have been in the playoffs.

“We’re one of only four teams in the league that has been in the second round in three of the last four years. So, we feel good about that and we feel good about our future and the development of our young players. [Coach Scott Brooks] came in and did an outstanding job, but we’re not satisfied. We want to continue to improve. We want to continue to do better moving forward.”

In all, it was an eventful day for the Wizards. They held their final group workout of draft prospects. They came to an agreement to purchase a long-awaited G League team. Grunfeld visited with reporters. All are steps, even if they are limited in scope.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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