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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis recently declared that the team “will never, ever tank,” but as Washington falls further down the NBA standings, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for fans and even D.C. sports media members to remain silent on Leonsis’ insistence to stay the course.
The Wizards (22-31) have now lost four of their last five games, with the latest loss coming against the lowly Atlanta Hawks, who are only 18-35 this season. Washington is now three games back of the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot.
The team’s future took an additional turn for the worse when news broke Tuesday that injured point guard John Wall will miss another 12 months due to a torn achilles. Wall, who had surgery on his left heel in January, was already slated to miss the rest of the season, but that has not stopped Leonsis from suggesting the team still has enough to make the playoffs.
Danny Rouhier, co-host of the “Grant & Danny” show on 106.7 The Fan, has been an outspoken critic of Leonsis and Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld. He often includes the hashtag #FireErnie with his Wizards related tweets, expressing an anger with the franchise that is common among the fan base.
“This team is broken, and irrevocably damaged and something needs to change in order for the franchise to reach the next level,” Rouhier tells City Paper. “Before the season, Ted explicitly said that the goal was to make the conference finals and to win 50 games, but now the goal posts have moved and just making the playoffs is good enough according to Mr. Leonsis, when in reality that’s not good enough at all.”
Last week, during a WTOP interview, Leonsis reiterated the team’s plan to forge ahead in an attempt to make the playoffs.
“I think we have to stay the course for this season,” Leonsis said when asked about the direction of the franchise. “You can’t go to your organization, to your players, to your coach, and say, ‘Let’s plan to lose.’”
Leonsis also weighed in on Grunfeld’s performance. Grunfeld is the longest-tenure active general manager or president in the league to have not won an NBA championship while in charge. Since his hiring in 2003, the Wizards have not advanced past the conference semifinals or won 50 games in a season.
“I’m happy if we meet our goals,” Leonsis said when asked about Grunfeld. “If we don’t meet our goals, we have to sit down and take stock on what do we have to do to improve during the offseason. In pro sports, every job is at risk every year.”
The Wizards have also put themselves in a major bind financially as a tax-paying team because they have one of the highest payrolls in the league. Washington, under Grunfeld, has forgone future assets in an attempt to win now.
“I hate calling for people’s job, because I recognize the human aspect of the whole situation. I definitely don’t want to be a radio shock jock when I say this, but by any metric you use, Ernie Grunfeld is not the man for the job,” Rouhier says. “A large part of the reason why the team is in the financial constraints that they’re in is because of transactions made by Ernie. This team has had a foundation of two All-Stars, who made nice playoff runs when they were younger but have failed to take the team to the next level because they simply don’t have enough talent around them, and this goes back to who is running the organization.”
Grunfeld is limited in what moves he can make in order to chase the owner’s edict of making the playoffs, but this also prevents Grunfeld from doing any further damage to the team’s assets before everything can be re-evaluated this summer.
“We think that the draft is a way that we can improve our team, and we might be able to make some trades around the edges before Feb. 7 or at the trade deadline, and then next offseason we would have to look at what is the best road for us to follow,” Leonsis said. “I wouldn’t throw in the towel on this core. …I just won’t do that.”
All-Star guard Bradley Beal is comforted by those words. “That means he wants you,” he said after a recent practice. “He wants you to be here, he wants you to figure it out. He wants us to be men about it and go out and get it done.”
While the team’s big three (Wall, Beal, and Otto Porter Jr.) appear to be safe, at least according to Leonsis, the rest of of the roster will be in limbo through Thursday’s deadline. Grunfeld will make a last ditch effort by attempting to make a small trade that could possibly see the Wizards shed $5 million and get below the league’s luxury tax threshold.
It likely won’t be enough to pacify a frustrated and apathetic fan base.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.