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Grunfeld stays in Wizards' plans

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Ernie Grunfeld had only one person to please this season if he was going to continue as president of the Washington Wizards: owner Ted Leonsis. Speculation over his future didn't concern him, and neither did his own opinion of whether he deserved to stay on after nine years at the franchise's helm.

"The important thing is Ted felt that," Grunfeld said Tuesday after the team announced his new contract, the length and terms of which were not disclosed.

Heading into the final two games of the season, the Wizards (18-46) have won four straight, their longest winning streak in five seasons. They've also nearly locked up the second-worst record in the NBA and are destined for the draft lottery for the fourth straight year.

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Wizards at Cavaliers
When » Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
TV » CSN+
Wizards players have differing opinions on the value of playing well in April, where they are a combined 9-7 the previous two seasons. "What we do this year ain't going to have nothing to do with next year really," guard Jordan Crawford said. "But it just shows that you play as a team, trust each other, you can win some games." At 6-7, Washington could finish the month above .500 with victories in its final two games. The Wizards (18-46) haven't lost since a 98-89 home defeat 10 days ago to Cleveland (21-43). "We finished strong last year, but we still had a core of guys that weren't quite as committed as the group we have now, wasn't quite mature," guard Maurice Evans said. "We had some guys who had contract disputes, Nick Young, just different agendas. Now we have a mature group of guys that's really coming together and that's really playing well at the right time."

It's all part of the plan set forth by Leonsis when he took control of the team two years ago. The Wizards owner did not appear in person at Verizon Center on Tuesday, instead choosing his blog, Ted's Take, to explain his rationale for re-signing Grunfeld.

"Under Ernie's leadership we have almost completely turned over the Wizards roster," Leonsis said. "We are not only going to be in a position to add a lottery-pick player through the draft, but also because of the exceptional salary cap flexibility that Ernie has created, we will be able to be active in the free-agent market, if we so choose."

Grunfeld, who celebrated his 57th birthday Tuesday, said it was year two of a three-year rebuilding process.

"We're moving to a direction where we want to be more competitive next year," he said. "We want to compete harder on a nightly basis."

The Wizards couldn't find a way to do that this season, starting 2-15 before coach Flip Saunders was fired. Grunfeld wouldn't speculate on the future of his chosen replacement, Randy Wittman.

"I think Randy's done a very nice job with this team," Grunfeld said. "The players have responded to him. The players are playing very hard for him, and once the season is over, I'll sit down with Ted, and we'll evaluate the situation just like we do every year."

Grunfeld also played down the notion that Andray Blatche wouldn't be able to play again in Washington due to the harsh reception he was given by home fans this season.

"Players are always forgiven if they come back and perform well," Grunfeld said.

Blatche can learn from Grunfeld, who said he was more concerned with doing his job than how others believed he was doing.

"There is still a lot of work left and it's probably taken longer than a lot of people wanted, including me," Grunfeld said. "And I can understand the frustration that some people have with that. But that's the process you have to go through when you're dealing with young players and the growth and the maturity process that we have to go through."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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