Tommy Sheppard is riding the anti-Ernie Grunfeld wave.
The last guy left in the room to be the Washington Wizards general manager is getting some love for his moves so far.
His latest — agreeing to acquire Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga from the Los Angeles Lakers — may look more beneficial to the Lakers than the Wizards, as it helps Los Angeles free up $32 million in salary cap space so they can get their third star to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But unless the Wizards plan on competing in the Big 3 League — with just six players on the roster — they literally needed bodies to take the court for them next season.
And, instead of loading up and overpaying bad free agents, like Ernie Grunfeld might have, Sheppard has added three cheap, young players, each with a year of NBA experience.
Maybe one of them can stick. Wagner, taken 25th by Los Angeles in the first round of last year’s draft, worked out for the Wizards before the draft, and they liked the 6-foot-11 center then. As a rookie, he averaged 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game over 43 games.
Not only that, but the Wizards got another second-round pick in 2022. Grunfeld treated second-round picks like a sexually-transmitted disease. And all it cost them was $1.1 million in cash that went to the New Orleans Pelicans in the three-way deal.
This deal follows the Wizards draft, with fans warming up to Sheppard’s selection of Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura with the ninth overall pick, and then Admiral Schofield from Tennessee in the second round.
These are decidedly not Grunfeld picks. Neither is an untested Euro or some freshman kid allegedly full of potential with branding plans. Hachimura is a junior and considered a high character guy, and Schofield is a senior.
With Grunfeld’s departure, character became the buzz word inside the Wizards organization. The higher the character, the more excited Ted Leonsis got. If the Boy Scouts had a basketball team they would have been on the Wizards’ draft board.
In between all this, Toronto president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri announced he wasn’t going anywhere. He will remain as the head of the championship Raptors organization.
“I love it here,” Ujiri said. “My family loves it here. My wife loves it here, which is very important. My kids are Canadians. You want to win more … in my mind, I’m here.”
In Transparent Ted’s mind, Ujiri was in Washington, even if only briefly. Leonsis reportedly put together a bid to lure Ujiri to Washington to run the Wizards that included a $10 million annual salary and a piece of the team.
But that notion was slapped out of the owner’s head with the threat of tampering after the ESPN report about the Wizards courtship broke minutes after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title. All these reports that followed about the Wizards having no interest in Ujiri or lobbying him to come to Washington was just damage control.
So now here we are, three months after Grunfeld was fired nine years too late, and still no full-time president of basketball operations in place.
This was Transparent Ted’s opportunity to send a big signal to Wizards fans that finally it was not going to be business as usual. He even hired a consultant to help him — and still the entire process has been a shambles.
Today he is left with Sheppard, one of the most well-liked executives in the NBA, both by fellow execs and the media. Sheppard has worked his way up over his 25 years in the league to be where he is now — the only guy left in the room. He spent 16 of those years working for Grunfeld, but he seems determined to distance himself, at least for now, from the carnage his mentor left behind.
Then again, it’s been easy not being Ernie Grunfeld so far.
If Sheppard winds up with the job on a permanent basis, his toughest challenge will be to pull off the biggest anti-Grunfeld move — to change the culture of the organization and demand accountability.
He should be qualified for that job — he had a front-row seat to the knucklehead eras that defined this organization since Sheppard arrived with his former boss.
If Sheppard’s voice was silenced all those years, now he has a chance to clear his throat.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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