Troy Brown Jr.

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Wizards fire president Ernie Grunfeld

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said his goal for this season was winning 50 games and making the conference finals.

Washington is 32-46 and eliminated from the playoff race.

So, it’s time for consequences.

Wizards release:

Chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment Ted Leonsis announced today that Ernie Grunfeld has been relieved of his duties as president of the Washington Wizards.

“We did not meet our stated goals of qualifying for the playoffs this season and, despite playing with injuries to several key players, we have a culture of accountability and a responsibility of managing to positive outcomes,” said Leonsis. “I wish to thank Ernie for his service to the Washington Wizards. He and his family have been great leaders in our community and have worked tirelessly to make us a top NBA franchise.”

Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard will report to Leonsis on all basketball matters beginning immediately. The team will begin a search for a new head of basketball operations (which will include Sheppard as a candidate) upon conclusion of the season.

Grunfeld had unusual job security given his pedestrian record. He ran the Wizards 16 seasons in which they went 568-724, made the playoffs only half the time and never advanced past the second round. Yet, Leonsis kept giving him secret contract extensions. Leonsis even gave Grunfeld an A grade for last offseason.

But the owner finally had enough.

Fans in Washington certainly had long ago.

Now, whoever succeeds Grunfeld must dig the Wizards out of their hole. John Wall, who’s guaranteed a projected $171 million over the next four years and seriously injured, has arguably the NBA’s worst contract. Ian Mahinmi‘s $15,450,051 salary next season is a burden. Even Dwight Howard‘s $5,603,850 player option looks like a liability. Washington has only one young player – Troy Brown Jr. – under contract beyond this season.

The bright spot: Bradley Beal, who’s locked up two more years. He’s incredibly valuable. Washington could build around him or trade him to get a head start on rebuilding.

But if he makes an All-NBA team this season, he’ll be eligible for a super-max contract extension this offseason that projects to be worth $199 million over four years. As Wall shows, those large deals carry major downside risk for teams, even when the player looks pretty good.

The next front-office leader must also navigate ahead with an owner who claimed he’d never tank. Maybe that’s just something Leonsis said. But it also might be a real mandate.

Leonsis has also shown reluctance to pay the luxury tax (which is why talented Otto Porter is gone). Another constraint.

Of course, Leonsis also just kept Ernie Grunfeld 16 years. The lure of that job security should draw candidates.

Grading the Washington Wizards offseason

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There’s a fine line between a young team building chemistry while growing and a team that has stalled.

The Wizards appeared to cross that threshold last season.

For just the second time in seven years, Washington’s record didn’t improve from the previous year. Also for the just the second time in five years, the Wizards didn’t reach the second round.

The last time both happened, they fired coach Randy Wittman. They didn’t dump Scott Brooks this year. With his contract, he’s entrenched.

But they did shake up the roster with a few moves that carry the potential to help Washington escape this muck or backfire in spectacular fashion. For a team that has become so uninspiring, the risk should be welcome.

Trade Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers? Sure. Perimeter talent comes at a premium. Bigs are more easily replaceable.

Sign Dwight Howard? Sure. For all his foibles, Howard remains an elite rebounder, high-quality interior defender and helpful pick-and-roller. The taxpayer mid-level exception is a bargain for a starter of his caliber.

Sign Jeff Green? Sure. He’s coming off a career year, as he finally better understands how he can – and more importantly, can’t – contribute to winning. A minimum salary suits him.

Howard and Rivers particularly certainly add personalities to a locker room with John Wall and Bradley Beal. But Wall and Gortat already clashed. How much worse could it be with Howard? Rivers will get along better with teammates when his dad isn’t coach, and he has become more self-aware. (The same can’t necessarily be said about Howard.)

These are manageable issues relative to what Washington could have faced.

Credit Wizards owner Ted Leonsis for hanging above the luxury-tax line. After paying the tax for the first time in franchise history last season and not getting even a single playoff-series victory, he could have rushed to trim salary. Trading the No. 15 pick – instead used on Troy Brown Jr. – to unload a bad contract would have been quite typical for this franchise.

This doesn’t mean Leonsis will keep spending big forever. Next summer looks like a possible a breaking point if Washington doesn’t produce this season.

Starting power forward Markieff Morris and promising but inconsistent forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will become free agents. Wall’s super-max extension will kick in. Otto Porter, Beal and Ian Mahinmi will remain on massive deals.

Unless they’re far more willing to spend than understood, the Wizards would be wise to get out ahead of an even more daunting luxury-tax crunch. Just letting Morris and/or Oubre walk would be disappointing.

But there’s still time for a preemptive solution. It didn’t have to happen this offseason.

I’m not certain the Wizards will be better this year. But in a summer they appeared likely to take a step back, they gave themselves a real chance to be better. This was the right time to invite variance, and Washington did it shrewdly.

Offseason grade: B-