WASHINGTON — Ernie Grunfeld was fired as president of the Washington Wizards after 16 seasons in charge of the team, and owner Ted Leonsis said he will oversee a “reboot.”
Grunfeld’s dismissal was announced with four games left in a disappointing, no-playoffs season that began with Leonsis setting a goal of 50 wins, something the franchise last accomplished in the 1970s.
Instead, Washington is 32-46 and in 11th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference. So Grunfeld is gone, after sticking around through years of fans’ complaints about him.
“Each year that he worked for me, we sat down and said: ‘What are our expectations. What are our goals?’ And we’re very, very thoughtful and mindful and spend a lot of time on what the goal should be. We set that up this year and we didn’t meet them and so that’s what happened this year,” Leonsis said.
“We entered the year with the fourth-highest payroll in the league. We could end up with the fourth-worst record in the league,” he said. “There’s a misalignment there and that all contributed here to: ‘Did we do the right thing?’”
Leonsis, whose Washington Capitals hockey team won the Stanley Cup last season, referenced that franchise’s GM change that came four years before its triumph.
“Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen,” Leonsis said. “And so to me, really, the base level was we didn’t make the playoffs.”
Point guard John Wall and center Dwight Howard both missed most of this season, and forward Markieff Morris also was hurt before getting traded.
But Leonsis made clear that he didn’t accept the injuries as an excuse for the way the season unfolded. He plans to enlist an outside firm to help with his next moves.
“I’m also not blind, and I was disappointed that even before the injuries, I didn’t like the way that we were playing. So something isn’t gelling,” he said. “So I’m hoping everyone has a lot of candor and trust and belief and can tell me what I should do and what we shouldn’t be doing. That’s what I want to do over the next three weeks.”
Tommy Sheppard, senior vice president of basketball operations, will take over Grunfeld’s duties on an interim basis and will be a candidate to replace him permanently.
As for coach Scott Brooks, Leonsis said: “Right now, we have decided on Scott’s status. He’s the coach of the team.”
“I’ve spent 1-on-1 time with Scott, just to tell him I expect us to ... work hard and play hard and continue to give the fans their money’s worth,” Leonsis said. “I think it’s very, very important that they continue to play in a very professional, competitive way.”
The club went 568-724 during Grunfeld’s tenure, including eight postseason appearances. But Washington never made it past the second round of the playoffs, despite having All-Stars such as Wall, Bradley Beal, Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.
There is a lot of work to do for whoever winds up leading the Wizards and shaping their roster.
Wall is expected to be sidelined for much, if not all, of next season. Beal is the only other elite player who is under contract for next season.
Otherwise, the cupboard is rather bare, and because of the large contracts Grunfeld gave Wall and Beal — not to mention backup center Ian Mahinmi, who rarely plays — there is not a lot of money available to bring aboard top-level free agents.
The team also doesn’t have a second-round draft pick in this year’s NBA draft because Grunfeld traded it away.
Leonsis did not skirt blame himself.
“Maybe I made mistakes in the way we spent and invested our money. I have to be open-minded. While Ernie got the news today, I take responsibility. I really do think if you are a grown-up leader that you have to do this. It’s not fun. But we failed and I failed,” Leonsis said. “So I don’t want to fail. I want to do what’s right.”