Most teams celebrate contract extensions, trumpeting them with press releases.
Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld received a contract extension months before the team concluded its inconsistent 2017-18 season and bowed out in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the eighth seed.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for majority owner Ted Leonsis and his company Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which runs the Wizards, declined to address the terms of the deal. According to a person close to the situation, however, the Wizards offered the extension in the fall.
The deal keeps Grunfeld, who was hired on June 30, 2003, as the head of the basketball operations through at least the 2018-19 season while granting him an unusual vote of confidence that few team executives have enjoyed in the modern professional sports landscape: 16 years of control.
If Leonsis feels strongly enough about Grunfeld to extend his contract, why not announce it? The owner might have other reasons, but it seems as if he’s trying to pull one over on Washington fans, who’ve largely grown tired of Grunfeld.
Like anyone on the job that long, Grunfeld has a mixed record. The Wizards have made the playoffs most years of his tenure, but they’ve never advanced past the second round. They also had an awful five-year stretch from 2008-09 to 2012-13 in which they acquired enough high picks to build the current squad. It was The Process, accidental version.
Firing Grunfeld wouldn’t necessarily make Washington better. Grunfeld, who previously ran the Bucks and Knicks, is the safe choice. He’s a competent executive. A replacement would offer more upside, but also more downside.
The Wizards – with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter signed long term – are locked into being solid for a while. But with those three (and Ian Mahinmi) on big contracts with multiple years remaining, it’ll be tough to improve. That could make it difficult to keep everyone happy, as Wall is calling for roster upgrades. Given the cap constraints, those might not be possible without breaking up the core.
Washington hasn’t had a losing season in five years. Multiple stars are locked up long term. The entire starting lineup of a winning team is set to return. There are worse places to be.
There are also better places to be.