The Ernie Grunfeld era has come to an end with the Washington Wizards after 16 seasons when the team fired their long-standing general manager and president of basketball operations.
In 16 seasons, the Wizards went 568-724 under Grunfeld’s helm. They advanced to the playoff eight times, but failed to make the postseason this year. The Wizards never made it as far as the second round in the postseason under Grunfeld.
Grunfeld held one of the longest tenures in the NBA. The only GM who were with their teams longer (e.g. Pat Riley, Donnie Walsh, RC Buford, and Danny Ainge) had won at least one championship. Grunfeld, in his career as an executive including time with the Knicks and Bucks, has never won a title.
Under Grunfeld, the Wizards never won more than 49 games. They were sheepishly average over the last 16 years. They couldn’t even tank properly this season. With 32 wins, they were stuck in the middle of the pack of teams from the East with zero chance of going the distance.
The King of Draft Busts
Grunfeld has been known around the league as a short-sighted GM who made several awful decisions. Among some of his worst moves included locking Gilbert Arenas into a ridiculous $111 million contract, not drafting Steph Curry in 2009, and drafted mega-busts Jan Vesley and Chris Singleton in 2011.
The Jan Vesley pick is the one that stings the most for Wizards fans. Grunfeld took a flier on the 7-foot Czech pro with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He passed on Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic.
Later in the same round, Grunfeld selected Chris Singleton from Florida State when Jimmy Butler was still on the board. At the same time, Grunfeld overlooked Tobias Harris, who attended Grunfeld’s alma mater, Tennessee.
Modern Day Wiz, Modern Day Meh
They Wizards, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, showed promise in the 2017 playoffs when they pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, Grunfeld as unable to capitalize on the team’s high-water mark.
The 2018-19 Wizards had bad luck with injuries, but the team was doomed before the season started. John Wall and Bradley Beal were not getting along, while Wall and the coaching staff were butting heads. Wall went down with a season-ending injury and Grunfeld traded Otto Porter to the Chicago Bulls.
Bradley Beal continued to put up impressive numbers this season, Beal made fantasy basketball geeks happy, but he lacked a supporting cast to help the Wizards.
Once the Wizards were officially eliminated from the playoffs, the team gave Grunfeld the pink slip.
Bernie and Ernie Nevermore
Grunfeld, a native of New York City, was profiled in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film with his former teammate Bernard King. “Bernie and Ernie” covered Grunfeld’s time at Tennessee in the mid-1970s before he was drafted by the New York Knicks. Grunfeld played with Bernard King in both college and in the NBA with the Knicks.
Grunfeld played a reserve role for his NBA career, which lasted with three teams over nine seasons. He pivoted to coaching, but he found his own calling as an executive with the Knicks. Grunfeld moved to the front office and quickly worked his way up the ladder. He was the GM of the Knicks during their halcyon days of the Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy era. He stepped away after the 1999 season, and you can make a strong argument that the Knicks were never the same since then.
Grunfeld worked with the Milwaukee Bucks for a couple of seasons before the Wizards hired him as president of basketball operations in 2003.