- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
In every respect, the 2012-13 season has thus far been a Titanic-level disaster for the Washington Wizards. Bad design, bad luck, bad execution. Other than that, everything has been just fine.
Fourteen games into the campaign, Washington has one win, a two-point home victory over a Portland Trail Blazers team playing its third road game in four nights. That puts the Wizards on pace to go 6-76 this season. Of course, they really aren't at that level of awful. Washington's point differential (minus-8.4) -- nearly three points worse than any other team in the league -- is that of an eventual 18-64 team.
It's important to note the expectations because of the way team architect Ernie Grunfeld shaped his roster. The Wizards finished 26th in point differential last season, but finished strong after Nene settled into the lineup. Grunfeld responded by adding a duo of high-priced veterans to the front line in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Last season, Grunfeld was in the last year of his contract as Washington's general manager and in a blog post last April, owner Ted Leonsis announced the decision to bring him back for 2012-13. Leonsis blogged, "I give credit to Ernie for putting us in this position so quickly, but, like you, I now expect the Wizards to transition from a work-in-progress to a team that competes for a playoff spot."
Grunfeld laid out a plan which had the upside of mediocrity, the level he's never been able to push the Wizards past. He in effect was trying to complete a puzzle that didn't have all the pieces.
Grunfeld decided to make that postseason push by bringing in $43 million in veteran salary at a time when almost all of his colleagues have embraced the idea that under the new CBA, flexibility is the greatest asset of a non-contender. The new guys not only didn't project to move the needle, but they both take up minutes that should be going to developing players. (A problem exacerbated by the late offseason signing of Martell Webster.)
Grunfeld could have simply bought out Rashard Lewis' partially guaranteed deal for $13.7 million and filled out his roster with stopgap, low-cost young veterans who would have augmented, not blocked, his young core. Alas, that ship has sailed. Instead, Grunfeld laid out a plan which had the upside of mediocrity, the level he's never been able to push the Wizards past. He in effect was trying to complete a puzzle that didn't have all the pieces.
By the time the season ends, Grunfeld will have been on the job for nearly 10 years. Washington's high-water mark during that time has been 45 wins. This will almost certainly be the fifth straight season that the Wizards have won 26 games or fewer. So when we say that the Wizards need to find a new chief of basketball operations, we're not ignoring the fact John Wall has missed the entire season. Washington's problems go way deeper than that.
Unless Wall returns and leads a dramatic resurgence, Wizards fans are almost certainly going to get the fresh start they've never quite gotten. Assuming a new hoops guru takes over in the front office, how quickly can things be turned around in the nation's capital? There are enough quality young pieces in place that the new executive doesn't have to start from scratch. Let's put ourselves in Grunfeld's empty chair and lay out some steps that could clean up this mess.