Wizards’ Grunfeld repeats familiar refrain of hope

The answers get a bit repetitive when the front office leader of

an NBA team is answering questions about a fifth consecutive season

out of the playoffs.

”We have a foundation,” Washington Wizards President Ernie

Grunfeld said. ”We have some solid veteran players and some

developing young players. There’s a good chemistry, and there’s no

question that our goal for next year is to make the playoffs.”

Grunfeld repeated the familiar refrain Tuesday, summing up the

Wizards’ 29-53 record at his annual end-of-season news

conference.

Other statements were also echoes of the past: The team needs to

get healthy and stay healthy, John Wall remains the long-term

centerpiece of the roster, the young underperforming players need

to get better, and it’s tough to judge how good the team can be

because the core players haven’t played together long enough.

”I think it’s important to have continuity and let the players

play over an extended period of time,” Grunfeld said. ”We haven’t

had our pieces together for more than 40 games.”

Injuries hit the Wizards hard, with the trio of Wall, Bradley

Beal and Nene combining to start just eight of 82 games. The roster

lacked the depth to compensate, leading to a 4-28 start.

On the positive side, the Wizards played roughly .500 ball once

Wall returned from a knee injury, and they finished the season

ranked eighth in the NBA in scoring defense. They also had a

winning record (22-19) at home, helping to balance their dreadful

mark (7-34) on the road.

”The No. 1 thing we need to get is to get our players’ health

right,” Grunfeld said. ”Rest up this summer, get our health

right, come back next year with all our players, and there’ll be

some additions in the offseason.”

Grunfeld needs to decide whether Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in

2010, is worthy of a maximum-value contract extension. Wall says he

deserves it. If there is no deal this offseason, Wall will become a

restricted free agent next summer.

”We’ve said all along that we’re building this team around John

and with John,” Grunfeld said, ”so we want to have him here

long-term.”

Grunfeld also praised coach Randy Wittman, who wouldn’t let the

team throw in the towel after the miserable start.

”He kept the ship afloat,” Grunfeld said. ”He kept the guys

motivated. He kept them competitive on a nightly basis.”

Grunfeld has brought in several young players who have plateaued

early or been outright disappointments. He said it’s time for Jan

Vesely, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin to step

up their games. For some in that group, it means yet another stint

in Summer League ball.

”This is a big summer for all of those players,” Grunfeld

said, ”and they have to improve.”

Grunfeld anticipates less roster turnover this year than last

year. He wasn’t ready to buy into the notion – stated by Wittman

and several players last week – that the Wizards need to focus on

adding veterans because they already have their fill of young

developing talent.

”We can get an old player any time,” Grunfeld said. ”But if

the old player doesn’t help you on the court, that’s not the kind

of situation we want to get into.”

A year ago, owner Ted Leonsis said another appearance in the

lottery would be ”unacceptable.” He later backed off after Wall

was injured, saying that ”the second- or third-worst record in the

NBA” would be unacceptable.

Grunfeld cleared that bar, but it probably won’t ever be that

low again.

”We had a team that could compete with anyone if we had all of

our pieces for the whole year, which we didn’t,” Grunfeld said.

”And there’s no excuses – injuries are a part of the game, and we

got off to that slow start and it was hard to recover from

that.”

Asked if he feels pressure to make the playoffs next year,

Grunfeld smiled.

”I felt pressure last year, and the year before, to be a

playoff team,” he answered.

It’s an answer he’s used to giving.

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP