Ernie Grunfeld Rumors
Durant, on the other hand, would entertain Gortat’s half-joking recruitment attempts whenever the Thunder came to the District. “I was helping. I was helping (general manager) Tommy (Sheppard), I was helping (former general manager) Ernie (Grunfeld). It was the time everyone was talking about KD, obviously later he signed with Golden State, but hey, everybody was trying to get KD. I was like let me help out,” Gortat said. “Obviously it was more of a joke for me, I don’t have any power to convince KD to come to play for Washington, but I was doing my part. I was being me, I was fooling around.”
Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, called former President Obama when rethinking the team’s direction after this year’s disappointing season, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Leonsis, whose managing group also owns the Washington Capitals and Mystics, got in touch with Obama after firing longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld.
If Ujiri says no to the job, league sources believe Wizards VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard, who has been running the team in the interim since former president of basketball ops Ernie Grunfeld got fired 10 weeks ago, would be the favorite to land it, though it’s possible he doesn’t receive a long leash. One possibility would be Sheppard continuing to run the team with an interim tag on him, league sources believe. In that situation, he and the Wizards could decide a predetermined date to reevaluate his position. Another option could be him working the 2019-20 season on a one-year deal and then revisiting his job status next spring or summer.
Arenas was right. Although the fine slip went to Ernie Grunfeld, the former Wizards president of the basketball operations who had the final say on such matters, no financial punishment was taken. This was not an isolated incident. For the past decade, the Wizards have not always held players accountable, a problem the next president of basketball operations might find difficult to uproot. “When I was there, the culture really wasn’t set,” said Brendan Haywood, who played the first 8½ years of his NBA career in Washington, from 2001-10. “There was never a set place [or] plan of: ‘Listen, this is what we do here. This is how we go about things here,’ that you sometimes see in other organizations.”
Over several months, The Washington Post conducted interviews with 23 people closely associated with the Wizards franchise: current and former players, team staffers who have spent years in Washington and high-level executives across the NBA. They were asked for their interpretation of the Wizards’ team culture, and in those interviews, a revealing portrait came into focus, offering possible insight into Washington’s struggles to build a contender. Grunfeld, who spent 16 years as team president before being fired April 2, was described as clever and precise but also a pushover, allowing players to dictate their own rules. In seeking to create freedom for his players, particularly stars, he overlooked slight transgressions with the same patience that had been afforded to him by two tolerant owners.
Several people with knowledge of the Wizards’ front office said that if a player broke one of the team rules, a fine or suspension would be recommended to Grunfeld, but they said they believe Grunfeld did not approve many of the punishments issued at Arenas while most of the fines directed at other players went through. Even lesser lights received star treatment. Haywood recalled a time when Andray Blatche, who played in Washington from 2005-2012, refused to lift weights. Grunfeld’s solution: deputize the strength coach to force Blatche into the weight room. Haywood, who witnessed this interaction, said such enforcement should be Grunfeld’s job. “I said: ‘That’s where you come in,’” Haywood said. Grunfeld “didn’t like the fact that I said that and kind of thought I was abrasive at the time and didn’t like it.” “[A player] basically gets to do whatever he wants to without any repercussions,” Haywood said of the Wizards. “That’s the culture.”
The next architect of the Washington Wizards will inherit a long list of complications, from an injured star to a below-average roster to an embattled coach. Even so, league executives firmly believe that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis will have no shortage of experienced, high-quality candidates as he seeks to replace Ernie Grunfeld, who was fired Tuesday after a 16-year tenure. This relative optimism stems from two major factors: respect for Leonsis as a deep-pocketed, engaged and patient owner; and a belief that the Wizards’ position is clearly superior to other vacant jobs with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans because of the organization’s stability and resources.