Wizards fans fall into two categories these days: The fans who want to blow the team up and rebuild, and the fans who want to ride it out with a core of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
I fall into the category of fan that isn’t ready to start over. I believe there’s a way out of this cap-strapped predicament that doesn’t involve dealing two of the best players in franchise history. Team president Ernie Grunfeld is clearly not the man to lead Washington to the light, but until this season is a wash, he needs to do everything in his power to win now.
Other minds buy into the thinking that Wall and Beal have already showed us they aren’t good enough to get it done together, and the hole Grunfeld has dug is already too deep to get out of and call for help. When looking at it that way, it’s easy to convince yourself the team should start over as soon as possible. That’s a tad contradictory, however.
The one unifying thought the two groups of fans have is that Grunfeld’s stay in the capital is long overdue. If we all agree Grunfeld has done a poor job of building the team, then we can’t possibly draw the conclusion that Wall and Beal aren’t good enough. While it may prove to be true that the two can’t be your best championship pieces, the team around them hasn’t yet been optimized the point where we know their real value. Whether they’re good enough remains unknown.
After including Kelly Oubre Jr., along with Austin Rivers, in a deal for Trevor Ariza, the Wizards are left with five players they selected themselves in the NBA Draft. Two are Wall and Beal. Another is Otto Porter Jr., a relatively good pick at number three considering some of the other lottery picks taken in 2013 (although Washington and 13 other teams passed on Giannis Antetokounmpo). The other two draft picks still on the roster are Tomas Satoransky and rookie Troy Brown Jr.
You would certainly like to have filled out the roster a little more through the draft, and there have been some noticeable misses like Jan Vesley in 2011, but Washington’s biggest draft issue more than misses has been a lack of picks. Before selecting Brown with the 15th pick this past summer, Washington had just one first-round pick from 2014 to 2017 – a problem caused by Grunfeld’s constant flipping of draft picks into veteran rentals, chasing current success in expense of future assets to no avail.
It’s an understandable plan of attack from a man in Grunfeld’s position. He drafted a core duo he thought was ready to win now and pushed all his chips into the middle of the table. But when you go all-in and lose, it’s over for you. The last time Grunfeld went for broke is when he traded the 2017 first-round pick for one year of Bojan Bogdanovic. That year, the Wizards pushed Boston to seven games before falling in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Grunfeld didn’t hit the jackpot, but he earned enough of his chips back to keep playing.
I consider this latest move, the trade with Phoenix to bring Ariza back to DC, Grunfeld’s last all-in moment. It was a move necessary for him to make, but one that won’t get him the same return as the last. This Wizards team looks uninspired, and while LeBron was the only real force in the East over the past few years of failed decisions, the conference has blossomed into a garden full of contenders. Maybe the Wizards can play themselves back into that conversation but if not, Grunfeld’s time in the District should be over as soon as the season ends. The next GM will have some pretty damn good players to build around.