Hanrahan: The Future of Flip and Ernie

Hanrahan: The Future of Flip and Ernie
April 9, 2011, 12:24 am
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Saturday April 9, 2011 10:13 a.m.
By Frank Hanrahan


What will be the fate of Wizards' President Ernie Grunfeld and coach Flip Saunders after this season is over? It has become a hot topic this past week about whether or not they will return for the 2011-12 season. Now, it's entirely possible that Saunders could be relieved and Grunfeld retained or vice versa but whatever the case, it will be an interesting summer for Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, as he has some big personnel decisions to make and it starts with Grunfeld and Saunders.

Leonsis sort of gave a public endorsement to the duo last week, saying that he is "thrilled' with Grunfeld's work and "very happy' with Saunders.

Leonsis blogged on April 6, "I give our President of Basketball Operations high grades in executing upon our rebuild to date. I am excited and psyched by our quick pivot into our future. We have developed a strong working relationship. We are on the same page. We are even having fun."
As for Saunders, Leonsis told 106.7 The Fan in a radio interview April 7, "Im very happy with Flip, because he is teaching in an environment of we want you to compete, we want you to play hard, we want you to bring it, because the line between success and failure in pro sports is really small. And effort and teamwork and camaraderie and heart and grit are important. And well tolerate youthful mistakes, but we want people to really want to be here and play here and like playing for one another and being respectful to the fans, and Im seeing that."
What Leonsis said was expected and he had to do it, because he can't come out and publicly criticize management. Leonsis would not officially commit to them returning either because he will fully evaluate after the season was over.
In my opinion, the best thing possible for this franchise to continue their 'rebuild,' is to move forward without Grunfeld and Saunders.
Sure, Grunfeld has done what Leonsis' wanted, and that was to trim payroll and acquire more draft picks, but that should not earn Grunfeld another season as the team president. Under Grunfeld's direction, the last three seasons have seen the Wizards wallow near the bottom of the league. 19-63 record in 2008-09, then 26-56 last year and the record still to be determined this year, highlighted by the 25 game losing streak on the road to start the season.
Winning the lottery last summer, may have saved Grunfeld's job because he was spoonfed guard John Wall, who has a solid rookie season and will likely be the runner-up for rookie of the year. Besides Wall, I would argue that the verdict is still very much out on every player that Grunfeld has drafted that is currently on the roster.Guard Nick Young had break out moments and was the team's leading scorer at 17 points a game before his season was cut short by a knee injury but it took him four years for the former first round selection to find his groove. Center JaVale McGee, like Young has showed flashes but he has yet to become a consistent player in his third season in the league.
Grunfeld made a colossal mistake locking up forward Andray Blatche to a long-term deal before this season and Blatche proved the critics right, entering training camp last summer out of shape and never could get his game going until late in the season.
For every move by Grunfeld that is applauded for, like unloading Gilbert Arenas' huge contract, there is his befuddling move in shipping the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft for two veteran guards in Mike Miller and Randy Foye who are no longer on the team. For every Jordan Crawford, there is the disappointment of Yi Jianlian and Josh Howard, who never could get healthy.
The stakes are too high to gamble and hope that under the leadership of Grunfeld that the team can start to do -- what it is truly all about -- winning. The same can be said for Flip Saunders.This is not what Saunders signed up to do two years ago when he inherited a veteran laden ball club. Saunders has clearly been frustrated with this extremely young Wizards team this season. As the losses and the injuries mounted, so did the excuses but while valid were unimpressive. Lacking talent is one thing but lacking fight, heart and hustle was exhibited in several home double-digit losses late in the season. Even at the pro-level, coaching comes into play in terms of preparing a team, even if undermanned, to compete night in and night out. That was rarely on display this season.This is a huge summer for the Wizards and the decisions they make will impact the franchise for several years to come.If Leonsis wants his rebuild to truly be successful, he needs to bring in new personnel to make that happen. Firing people isnt the easiest thing to do, but in such a high stakes business as the NBA is and with the high profile position that these guys are in, its time to make a move and go in another direction.
Nothing personal, just business.