- The Washington Times
Tuesday, February 12, 2019


A few years ago, the National Volunteer Fire Council issued a report that should be must reading for Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

It addresses the issue of the arsonist fireman — the phony hero who sets a fire and then gets credit for putting it out.

It is a problem that can be difficult to recognize, and the council said without a national data collection to study, researchers “are forced to extrapolate based … known cases.”

Well, there is no shortage of known cases when it comes to the Wizards.

General manager Ernie Grunfeld has spent years putting out fires he himself set — the latest being the trade of Otto Porter and the $106 million max contract the Wizards gave him in August 2017.

Grunfeld, who gave Porter the max deal, is now getting credit for unloading the ridiculous contract. The 2013 first-round draft pick —  as meek, mild and quiet a player as you’ll find in the NBA — only got the contract because they couldn’t get any free agents to take their money.

Porter, traded last week to the Chicago Bulls for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, is now telling reporters that the Wizards lied to him about his future with the franchise.

The Wizards have won two of three since the deal, but if you look closer, you realize that the two victories came against two squads — Cleveland and Chicago — that are not just losing teams, but are committed to losing. It’s their goal. Further investigation would reveal that the team that Portis and Parker played 54 games for this year won just 13 of them.

When the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris three years ago — with flames surrounding that deal, giving up a first round draft choice — Washington went on a 7-2 run and excitement abounded. They went 8-9 the rest of the season.
Morris was traded last week to the New Orleans Pelicans for Wesley Johnson and released soon after, still recovering from a neck injury.

Grunfeld makes the bad, terrible, horrible deals that have buried this franchise, and then gets the credit for the trades he makes to dig his way out of it.

It’s almost like that scene in “Cool Hand Luke,” when Paul Newman is forced to dig a hole and fill it back in again as punishment.

Haven’t Wizards fans suffered through enough franchise fires? Haven’t they been covered with enough dirt?

Washington’s loss to Detroit Monday night means that for the 40th straight season, the franchise will not win 50 games in a season. That’s the Magic-Bird era, the Michael Jordan era, the Shaq-Kobe era and 16 seasons of the LeBron James era that have passed without Washington having one team win 50 games in one season.

Grunfeld has been there for nearly 40 percent of those seasons.

Through that, the general manager has burnt the franchise down at least three times now and yet has been given the opportunity every time by owner Transparent Ted Leonsis to put the fires out.

A few months before Leonsis officially took control of the basketball team following the death of Abe Pollin, Grunfeld was gaining favor by dismantling the team of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and later Gilbert Arena — a team that was always an illusion, a defensive disaster that had three first-round playoffs exits and were swept in their only second round.

“Unfortunately, our on-court results have not met our expectations and we felt it was necessary to make changes to improve our future and our financial flexibility,” Grunfeld said following the trade of Jamison. “This trade accomplished both of those objectives.”

Those objectives, of course, have been to save the burning franchise.

Then there was the next call to put out the fire — the dismantling of Transparent Ted’s big three, JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche — which actually did at least result in the arrival of Nene, who was a valuable player for the franchise. Yet they continued to fail to win 50 games or get beyond the second round of the postseason.

“Nick and JaVale did good things for us … but (the trade) probably will change the makeup of our locker room,” Grunfeld said.

Nothing gets by the Wizards general manager.

Now we are is the midst of watching Grunfeld put out the fire that he set by signing Porter, John Wall (now out perhaps until 2021 recovering from a ruptured Achilles heel) and Bradley Beal, spending the money that no free agent of note in the NBA will take, and then surrounding them with bad players and bad contracts.

When all is said and done, after 16 seasons as the Wizards GM with a 566-722 record, all Grunfeld really has to show for it is Beal — who, let us not forget, started the season wanting out of Washington.

That arsonist fireman study by the National Volunteer Fire Council concludes that “leaders must first acknowledge that the problem exists, it is preventable, and it is unacceptable.”

Transparent Ted, it’s long past time to acknowledge the problem exists. It should be unacceptable.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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