It wasn’t exactly a celebration today at Verizon Center, where Ernie Grunfeld answered questions following the announcement that he had agreed to a new contract to remain president of the Wizards. Team owner Ted Leonsis was not present, but non-Wizards related tweets did emerge from his personal Twitter account while Grunfeld talked to the media. Here’s what Grunfeld had to say, with some key statements highlighted:
When did you find out that you’d stay on with the team?
“It was official yesterday at some point. I'm excited about it. It’s been a process for us. Obviously, we've been very transparent about what we're trying to do. We had a game plan, and we wanted to rebuild through the draft with younger players, put ourselves in a good position from a salary cap standpoint moving forward, and I think we've really made some good progress. I'm excited about being a part of it moving forward.”
Did you have any angst or concerns about your standing?
“No, I really wasn't focused on that at all as I said. I felt like I had a job to do, and if I did my job well, things would work out. As I said we had a game plan, Ted and I talked all the time about where we are and what we're trying to accomplish and things worked out.”
Is this a case of you staying on because you’ve executed the team’s plan?
“I don't know. I have a history in this league, I've been doing this job, a job like this, for 22 years, and I think we did some good things. I thought we had a game plan. Obviously, I was part of it when Ted took over the team. He had a plan, and we went out and we executed it together, and the plan is not complete yet. We still have a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of work to do, but I think we can really see some progress. Our young players are developing, we've become much more competitive, we've added some veteran players that have really helped us along the way, and I think we have a bright future.”
What is the Wizards’ timetable?
“I think we're a competitive team. Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, this is year two of a three- year rebuild so we're moving to a direction where we want to be more competitive next year, we want to compete harder on a nightly basis. Our young guys need to continue to develop, we're going to have another high pick that we're going to have to get into the mix so it remains to be seen exactly where we are in that rebuild. But I think that in the last month or so you've seen a lot of progress form our young players, a lot of growth, and you know we also have to remember those players didn't have the benefit of summer league and the benefit of the long training camp so a lot of them have to learn on the fly. But I think they're coming around now, the team is playing harder, our defense is greatly improved, especially in the last month since we made the trade for Nene, and we have flexibility moving forward. I think we're in a nice position to be a competitive ball club next year on a nightly basis, and that's what we have to do. We have to get more consistency as we move forward and our players mature.”
With where the Wizards are now, what is the comparison to earlier years in your tenure, and what are the lessons you’ve learned?
"I think every situation is a different situation. I’ve had all kinds of different situations, not only here but in New York and in Milwaukee. You have a game plan, you try and follow up on the game plan. Usually the game plan is set up by ownership and it’s up to us to carry it out."
What about regrets and disappointments?
"We didn’t win a championship. Everybody always wants to be the best they can possibly be and move forward. You can’t really go back and compare what happened. It’s a whole cast of different characters, the rules were different. The whole situation was different. All we’re doing is moving forward and looking to the future and I think the future looks good for us.”
Does the plan include spending money on free agents?
“We already acquired a free agent the way we look at it in Nene. Last summer he was the most sought after free agent in the market place. We were able to get him via trade instead of having to play the free agent game and going out there not knowing for sure if you were going to get a player of his caliber. We played the free agent game, we just did it a little bit different. We are paying somebody a very nice salary. The games he played for us we’re 5-4 and of the four losses, three of them were by three points or less against some very good teams. Obviously, he makes a difference out there. He knows how to play the game. He’s a very intelligent player. He’s savvy. He’s one of those players that commands respect from the opposition as well as his teammates."
Is the next step adding more veterans this summer?
"I think people don’t give enough credit to veterans like Mo Evans and Roger Mason who did a very nice job with our players all year even though they maybe they didn’t get as much playing time. If the right opportunity is there for us to add better players, then we’ll always going to look at that. But I think the veterans we had this year did a nice job under very tough circumstances because we didn’t have the benefit of having training camp and having summer league. When you have so many young players - we have seven players in their first or second year of their careers who are in our rotation. I think you can say just about every one of them as improved as the season has gone on and has progressed."
How do you evaluate Randy Wittman and what is his status for next season?
“I think Randy’s done a very nice job with this team. The players have responded to him. The players are playing very hard for him, and once the season is over, I’ll sit with Ted, and we’ll evaluate the situation just like we do every year.”
Given your track record, do you believe you deserved an extension?
“The important thing is Ted felt that. There’s a lot of circumstances that go with certain things. We had to pivot and change course in midstream of where we were. We made the playoffs four years in a row, and we went to the second round one time, and two of those playoff rounds, we didn’t have our top scorer playing for us, and one of them we didn’t have our top scorer and Caron Butler playing for us. I think we had some good success, and then we had some injuries that really hurt us. The following year Brendan Haywood and Gilbert [Arenas] went down. We made some trades, and we had a very good ball club, and then we an incident in the locker room, and we decided to go in a different direction then and to get new players and to rebuild. There was also an ownership change, and when Ted came in, he said that what he wanted to do was build through the draft just like he did with the Capitals and obviously, that was our plan, and get young players and develop with them and build with them, get a team that could be competitive for many years to come. And that was our plan, and that’s what we’re in the process of carrying out.”
What is your evaluation of rookies Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack?
“I think they’ve all had some moments. Like most rookies, they haven’t been as consistent as we’d like them to be. Jan is really coming on. I think in his last five games, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, but he’s more than stats. He’s an outstanding defender. He plays the pick and roll as well as anybody. He’s an energy player. Chris has shown some ability to hit the outside shot and play good, solid defense. Shelvin has a lot of maturity and is very solid and understands how to run the team, but if you look at all of our second year players, they’ve all really taken a bigger jump. That’s how the NBA works. It’s harder for rookies. You need that experience, and our second year players, almost every one of them, has taken a significant jump. Obviously john puts up outstanding numbers every game. He had 14 assists last night and is really looking to pass the basketball more, and his defense has improved. Jordan’s had very good progress, and of course, Kevin Seraphin has come on, and I think he’s had 14 games in a row double-figure scoring. He’s averaging like 14 points a game and seven rebounds since we made the trade, and he’s had an opportunity to play. And Trevor Booker played very well before his injury so I think our second-year players, just like normal, took a bigger jump than our rookies did this year because the rookies don’t have as much experience. They didn’t have the benefit of summer league and training camp like most young players do.”
What specific areas on the team do you intend to address this offseason?
“We’ll evaluate all those situations after the season. We’ll sit down with our staff and our coaches and see what areas we really want to improve on, and we want our young players to improve in the offseason and continue with player development, and then we’ll add pieces here and there where we feel it’s necessary.”
What is Andray Blatche’s status and will he return next season?
“That remains to be seen. It’s going to be a process that we’ll monitor during the summer. Obviously, he’s a very talented player as he’s shown in the past. He got hurt early in the year, and he was just never able to get into the kind of game shape that we needed him to be in to help contribute this year.”
Do you understand why fans might be surprised that you were retained?
“Well, I don’t know. I’m really more concerned about what I think and what my job is at hand. And I think we’ve done some good things here over the years and I think that the things that we’ve done in the last couple of years are very positive and I think if you really look at it, realistically, and see where we are and see that the assets that we’ve accumulated and how we’ve positioned ourselves, I think we’re in a very nice spot to be competitive here for years to come.”
Can you talk more about Ted’s mention of technology in his blog post.
“We have a system. Obviously, we don’t want to let out too much, because it’s our system. Some teams that use it, but it’s a high-tech system with videos and computers that track every movement of the player, track every movement of the ball and we can use that for statistical analysis as the games go on. Obviously, you need X amount of games to get proper evaluation of those kind of things, but we have a system in there that I believe eight or nine teams currently use.”
Where is the team financially and how do you plan to use your money in free agency?
“We will evaluate that, as we move along. We’ll see which free agents are actually going to be available. A lot of players have outs. A lot of players have options to opt into their contracts, so we don’t know who the whole field is going to be yet, and we’ll make decisions on our own players as the summer progresses?”
Given the reception at Verizon Center, is it a non-starter to put Andray Blatche back on the court?
“No. Not necessarily. Players are always forgiven if they come back and perform well.”
What impressing you about this group now?
“I think we have a nice balance. We have good chemistry. We have players that compete on a nightly basis. They play hard. They try to follow the game plan. I think our veterans have done a nice job of keeping everybody grounded and I think we’re playing team basketball. We’re moving the basketball. We’ve played unselfish basketball and we’re playing for one another. We’ve had some nice wins on the road against some really good teams, which only helps your confidence moving forward and I think you could see that the players’ confidence is growing and we’re growing as a team, as a unit. Obviously, there is still a lot of work left and it’s probably taken longer than a lot of people wanted, including me. 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. But when we added Nene, he also had a whole new element of professionalism and team play and savvy, and I think the young players believe in him and I think the young players listen to him and we’re doing a lot of the little things a lot better than we have in the past.”