Grunfeld: Wizards’ rebuild ‘not a 1-year process’

Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is the first to

admit that rebuilding is a ”painful process” that’s going to take

a while.

At least he can draw inspiration from the other team that plays

at the Verizon Center.

Grunfeld’s mandate from owner Ted Leonsis is to emulate the rise

of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who have just won their fourth

straight division title and are filling the arena for their

first-round playoff series.

”I’m going to the game Saturday, and I watched the game (on TV)

last night,” Grunfeld said. ”That’s where we want to get to

someday.”

The Wizards went 23-59, the third straight season they’ve

finished at least 30 games below .500, but at least this offseason

has a different feel. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn

Jamison – the so-called Big 3 that never won so much as a playoff

series together in Washington – are firmly in the rearview mirror.

This season was all about youth and clearing cap space, with No. 1

overall pick John Wall proving that he indeed has franchise player

potential.

The results were predictable: Some really bad losses and a few

bright spots, especially near the end of the season.

”We knew it was going to be a painful process,” Grunfeld said

Thursday at his annual state-of-the-team news conference. ”But any

time you go with youth, you’re going to be a little inconsistent.

You’re going to be up and down. But I think going down the road for

the future, this is really going to help us.”

The Capitals had to endure three straight last-place seasons,

including two after they landed No. 1 overall pick Alex Ovechkin,

before returning to the playoffs. Grunfeld indicated that Wizards

fans are going to need similar patience.

”We’re still going to be developing,” he said. ”Any time you

have young players, you have to continue to develop. It’s not a

one-year process. It’s an ongoing process, and we know it’s going

to take us some time to get the whole package together. … We want

to win. The wining and losing part of this year we’re not happy

about because we’re all very competitive people. We take a lot of

pride in what we do, and we want to win games, but at the same time

we understand that it’s a process. We want to make improvement next

year. We want to play better next year. We want to win more games

next year.

”Our goal is we want to get back to the playoffs as soon as

possible at some point, but at the same time we don’t want to make

any drastic moves, and we understand that we have to have patience

with young players.”

The Wizards have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft and

should plenty of salary cap space with only seven players under

contract for next season – Wall, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis,

Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker.

Teams that have such financial flexibility are usually ready to

make a big splash in the free agent market, but Grunfeld downplayed

any such expectations. For one thing, he said, it’s impossible to

get a gauge on this year’s free agency until there’s a new

collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’

union.

”We just have to see who’s available as far as free agency is

concerned, and we have to see how much cap room we actually have,”

Grunfeld said. ”The worst thing you can probably do is spend a lot

of your cap room on a free agent that might not fit in real well

just because you want to get a free agent on the roster. It has to

be the right player. Ted has laid out the plan very clearly. Just

because you have the cap room doesn’t mean you have to go out and

spend it right away.”

Grunfeld added that he’s ”very happy” with coach Flip

Saunders, saying that Saunders has proven to be a professional by

adjusting from a veteran-laded team that was built to a contend for

a title to a youth-filled squad that piled up the losses.

There will be one change for next season. The Wizards announced

they will unveil their new uniforms on May 10.

The color scheme will be red, white and blue – just like the

Capitals.