Saturday April 23, 2011 3:10 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
With Wizards' player evaluations in, it's management's turn to get their grades for the 2010-11 season.
Coach Flip Saunders: Grade C
Before the season, Saunders handed out iPads to every player to use to go over the playbook, to scout opponents and break down film. Boy, that worked out well, didnt it? Technology is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to basketball, there's no app for good, old-fashioned hard work and desire, something the Wizards sorely lacked during the season.
You can argue Saunders had little talent to work with, but Washington certainly didn't close the gap by showing the intangibles it needed to be more competitive. Even at the NBA level, that lack falls squarely on the coach. Proper use of practice time, preparation and getting players ready to compete in every game is what the coaching staff should be doing, but as the teams 23-59 record shows, that was not always the case.
To Saunders credit, the Wizards did not check out late in the year, as they won five of their last nine games to close out the season. But where was this at the start and the middle of the season?
Turnover with trades and injuries are always a factor in pro sports, and the Wizards did have an inordinate number of players go down with ailments this season, but that cannot be used as an excuse in terms of how a team competes.
Saunders is a big stats guy, so when he looks at the most important numbers, the team's 23-59 record, it's obviously very disappointing for him and the organization. Additionally, under Saunders' leadership, the team started off 0-25 on the road and finished 3-38 away from D.C. Preparation, practice habits, strategy and getting the most of your players -- at home or on the road, injuries or no injuries -- is a sign of a good coach, no matter what level it is.
It is well-documented that Saunders was hired on to coach a veteran team two years ago, but that squad was blown up after the Gilbert Arenas gun incident and it was clear the team was going nowhere fast. The 2009-10 team finished 26-56.
When the Wizards got the No. 1 pick in John Wall, the torch was passed from former All-Star Arenas to the rookie from Kentucky, and the rebuild was officially underway under Saunders and president Ernie Grunfeld.
New owner Ted Leonsis will apparently stick with Grunfeld and Saunders for next season. For them to stick around longer than that, these two men must change their style and approach during this offseason, because after three straight losing seasons, failure has become the norm and not the exception.
Ernie Grunfeld: Grade C
If it weren't for the trade that unloaded Gilbert Arenas to Orlando for Rashard Lewis, Grunfeld would have gotten a much lower grade.
With two first-round picks, this will be a big draft in June for Grunfeld and the franchise going forward. He has the centerpiece in Wall, and now Grunfeld must find the right players to build around the dynamic point guard.
Besides Wall, Grunfeld selected a project at best in big man Kevin Seraphin with the 17th pick last summer. Seraphin had a rough rookie season and will have to improve dramatically to get any playing time next season.
Grunfeld also traded for forward Trevor Booker, on whom the verdict is still very much out -- although I think he could be a solid role player for many years in the league after showing signs of promise in his rookie campaign.
Grunfeld's free-agent signing of Josh Howard was not successful, as Howard never was fully healthy and played in just 18 games this season. Grunfeld didn't give up much in the trade to New Jersey for forward Yi Jianlian, but the Wizards didn't get much from Yi on the court and he likely will not be back next season.
Grunfeld's trade-deadline deal with Atlanta for a first-round pick this summer and Jordan Crawford, in exchange for Kirk Hinrich, may pay off big down the road. Crawford breathed new life into the team, averaging over 20 points a game as a starting shooting guard and also showing he can play the point guard spot if need be.
Grunfeld has positioned Washington nicely with cap space and draft picks for this off-season. Big question is, will he make the right moves and draft the right players for this team to get back to being at least respectable in the NBA? That remains to be seen.