On April 2, 2019, the Washington Wizards dismissed longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in DC. An era where they would no longer overpay role players and whiff on picks. Instead, the Wizards would look for a guy that could make moves that would help steer the team back into championship contention. This search is now looking a little concerning. The draft is three days away. Free agency opens two weeks after that. This is the busiest time in the NBA for front offices alike as they will make moves to improve their respective teams. The Wizards have no one to run the team at this important juncture. That is not a good sign.
One question why nobody has taken the Wizards General Manager job is one that does not get asked enough. Does anybody actually want to run the Wizards? This is a completely different question from what many have been asking over this two month search. Ted Leonsis can no longer be in the mindset of ‘running an NBA franchise is one of the most prestigious, highest-paying, and most exclusive jobs in American sports; somebody will take it’. Well here’s reality, no one has and no one will with the way the roster is constructed.
This is the sad truth that most Wizards fans and analysts have found out over the past season. They are currently in a nasty cap situation that includes a surplus of bad contracts and unrestricted free agents. Heck, only five players have contracts for next season which means that filling out the roster is going to be just as hard as hitting a home run with the ninth overall pick. The five players contracted for next year are Wall, Beal, washed-up 33-year-old Dwight Howard, unplayable 32-year-old Ian Mahinmi, and second-year wing Troy Brown Jr., who spent nearly half his rookie season in the G-League. That’s how bad the cap situation is.
Another reason why someone hasn’t taken the Wizards job yet is a question that is commonly asked by many. What direction is this team even headed? You have an All-Star point guard in John Wall who won’t return to the court until the back half of next season at the earliest, if ever, and seems very unlikely to ever be more than a shadow of his former self. His supermax also rules out the possibility of building a competitive team around Beal until he gets back. There is also the Bradley Beal question that is hovering around this franchise. Do you convince Brad to stay in Washington, or do you try to get a massive trade package for him? The latter sounds like the better choice. Beal turns 26 in a couple weeks; he’s due $56 million in salary over the next couple seasons before he can hit free agency in the summer of 2021. He’s too old, too good, and too expensive to make sense as a cornerstone for the kind of years-long, draft-based, tank-and-rebuild roster that usually applies to teams without any near-term hope of competing for anything. The Wizards should trade Beal. If you let him walk in free agency, it will make the rebuild even longer than expected while a trade could help accelerate the process a little and impact the club’s future more.
All of this is slowly killing the team. As each day passes, the opportunities to reshape the team and the organization around it becomes less appealing to a basketball mind. Instead, it is seen as more of a burden, a hopeless franchise that has been wrecked by Ernie Grunfeld’s reign. Anything that Ted Leonsis tries to throw at an executive won’t work. There isn’t enough time to overhaul the front office, evaluate the coaching and training staffs, and create a shortlist of free agents. Who wants to come in and be making these decisions on their second day of the job?
Its not like the Wizards haven’t tried to bring someone in. In May, Nuggets executive Tim Connelly interviewed for the job and almost took it. Then, given time to rationally think about what he was being offered, Connelly opted to stay with Denver, a 54-win team who won a playoff series and have an outstanding core of young players that include the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. Danny Ferry, who left the Atlanta Hawks’ front office in 2015 in the aftermath of a racism scandal there and has only held advisor and interim positions around the league since then, interviewed for the job in April. There’s also the fable that Masai Ujiri would leave a stable, fantastically successful team in the Raptors to then be a drudge in what’s likely the most hopeless franchise in the NBA. Other candidates include somebody named Tommy Sheppard, who apparently has been handling the job on an interim basis, and Oklahoma City Thunder VP of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver.
To sum up why no one wants to take this job, it’s because there is nothing here. All anyone sees when it comes to Washington is a team hamstrung by John Wall’s supermax and a Bradley Beal working tirelessly to make this franchise relevant. The Wizards will fill this position, eventually and inevitably, and maybe that bare fact offers some small comfort to despairing fans. But whoever it is will not have enough time to fix all of the problems at hand.