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Ernie Grunfeld Interview




| May 9, 2006

Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld spoke with local media today on the end of the season, the future of the Wizards, and more. Here's what was said:

On the end of the season: “I think right now we are all disappointed on how the season ended for us. We played a very exciting series against Cleveland. I just finished meeting with most of our players and they all feel like we should still be playing -- and that’s good. The series hurt them and bothered them. At the same time, it gave the players added motivation for next year. We are very excited for what the future holds for us. I think the players are going to use this series as extra motivation to come back and be ready for next season. Our players understand what’s expected of them. They are very competitive and they have a lot of pride, and I think they showed that with the resiliency they showed after some tough losses this year.”

On his goals: “When I first got here we said our goal was to become perennial playoff contenders. We just made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 18 years. I think we have put ourselves in a position where we have achieved some of those goals. I think the nucleus and the core of this team is set going forward, where we can remain competitive. We have a very good core of young players. This is still a very good, young team. I think we learned a lot from this playoff experience and our players still have a lot of room for growth.”

On the focus of the off-season: “The main focus we are going to have for this off-season is to have our player development in place. That is the only thing we can control. We can’t control what type of trades there may be out there or things of that nature, but player development is in our own hands and our players still have room for growth. I think overall we are heading in the right direction. I think this year’s team has shown that when we play up to our abilities we can compete with anyone in the league. We have had some big wins over the top teams in the league this season. We have shown that we can play at the highest level. I am excited about next year and I am excited about the future of this franchise.”

On the biggest area for improvement: “We all know, the coaching staff and the players included, that we have to become a better defensive team. I think everybody realizes that and it is something that we have to continue to work at. Defense is a team thing. If you look at the Detroit Pistons or some of the other better defensive teams you have to play overall team defense. If you are naming individual defensive players there isn’t a player in this league that is going to shut down another player, except for maybe Bruce Bowen. Besides that you have to have help your teammates. I think we have several players on this team that have the ability to be very good team defensive players. Caron and Antonio have shown the ability to be good defenders. Jared is a defensive player and we have shot blockers back there. Everybody has to improve overall, individually, and from a team standpoint. I think the coaches and the players realize that. Eddie has said that several of the players, like Antawn and Gilbert, have said that if we are going to make another significant move we have to improve defensively.”

On the future: “I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be, and I think we’ve shown that we can compete against the best teams. We can go win a road game in Phoenix or win a road game in Denver, and beat San Antonio and beat Detroit in Detroit. I think that one of the things that we have to do next year is play more consistent basketball through the course of the season. But when you make changes it takes time for the cohesiveness to come together.”

On contending for a Championship: “It doesn’t happen over night. You get knocked around a little bit before you start knocking everyone else around a little bit. It depends on how our players develop. It depends on how much we improve as a unit. Just because you have some core players that you feel comfortable with, doesn’t mean that you don’t tweak the roster a little bit to improve in certain areas. That’s what we do, but having said that, I feel comfortable with what we have and we’re confident that when these players are hitting on all cylinders, we can compete with anybody in the league.”

On making the playoffs again: “We wanted to be a playoff team. You don’t go from not being in the playoffs for four or five years to winning a Championship overnight. It’s a process. You have to build it. You have to get a core group together, and then you have to keep that core group together. You just have to pay your dues in playoff type situations. Sometimes they aren’t pleasant. This was not a pleasant series for us but I think it’s a series that we can learn from and will learn from. We put ourselves in a position to advance, but unfortunately some things did not go our way down the stretch. I’ve never seen a playoff series where you lose three one-point games all on buzzer beaters, but those are the kind of things that we can’t let happen in the future. I think our players learned from that and hopefully we won’t repeat those things next year. We’ll give Cleveland credit. They made the big shots when they had to, and from a fans standpoint, it was an incredibly exciting series -- hard fought, exciting plays, a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, and hopefully we can play Cleveland again in the future. That’s the way rivalries are built. Rivalries are not built in the regular season. They are built in the playoffs.”

On Eddie Jordan: “I think Eddie has done a terrific job here. We went to the playoffs each of the last two years. The players have improved. We fought hard every night, and I think he has done a very good job for us.”

On Eddie Jordan’s contract: “We’ll have internal discussions about that. We’ll sit with Mr. Pollin as the summer progresses and we’ll have discussions about that. We’ll have discussions about our players and we’ll have discussions about what direction this team is going. There is no timeframe for anything. Right now we are still hurting and smarting from the playoff elimination and I think that’s healthy. All of these issues will take care of themselves as the summer goes along and we’ll continue to have our internal discussions.”

On the team: “I’m comfortable with what we have because I think we’ve shown that we can compete at the highest level – against anybody. Having said that, you always look for things to see if you can make your team better. I think we’ve shown in our three years here that if the right opportunity presents itself that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger. The only thing that we can control is what we have under our roof currently. I feel good about what we have under our roof currently and we have to take a very aggressive stand in terms of developing those players and making them better and making them more cohesive. It will help having another year under our belt to learn each other. This playoff run wasn’t just about the playoffs itself, but in fighting to get to the playoffs and fighting to get home court advantage and fighting to get the best possible seed. This group went through a lot of tough times together. They played some big, big must win games – not only in the playoffs but in the regular season, and I think that’s going to be beneficial to this group in the future.”

On the core: “Gilbert Arenas has made great strides in the last three years. He has become a real superstar in this league and everybody has acknowledged that. He is a great competitor. Players like Caron (Butler), Antawn (Jamison), and Antonio (Daniels) have provided a lot for us and they can still get better. We have young role players in Jared Jeffries, Brendan (Haywood), Etan (Thomas) and Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor -- who are both very young. We feel like this core can stay together for quite some time. Obviously we are always looking for ways to improve and tweak it, and the draft is coming up, so we will see what that holds for us.”

On Caron Butler: “Caron brings a lot to the table. He’s an extremely well rounded player. He can do a lot of different things out there on the floor. He’s very tough and hard nosed. He has a swagger about him -- a confidence that is very important. That rubs off on his teammates. And he fills up the stats sheet. He gets his points and rebounds. He had 20 rebounds in that last contest – that’s unheard of for a small forward, but he’s that type of player. He can get his own shots. He gets steals and he gets assists and I think if he can continue to improve, he has All-Star potential.”

On Jarvis Hayes: “He’s doing extremely well. He’s right on track. I met with him today and his attitude has been terrific. Injuries are something that you can’t ever tell about but our doctors tell us that he should see a 100% recovery. He’s going to start running full speed in another three or four weeks so we have four or five months to get ready for the regular season. He’s shown that he has legitimate NBA talent. He’s very versatile. He’s a good defender. He can really spread the defense with his outside shooting ability, and he’s very athletic. He’s a very solid NBA player and we’re excited for him to be 100% healthy.”

On Jared Jeffries: “Jared is a restricted free agent which means that we can match any offer that he may have. We had discussions with Jared about an extension last summer but we could not come to any kind of terms. At the appropriate time we will sit down with him and his representatives and see where we are. I think Jared showed improvement this season. He is a very versatile player and a very solid contributor for us.”

On the frontcourt: “I think our big people had some success – and we’d like to see more consistency from them. That is one of the toughest positions in this league to fill. If you look around the league, I think the game has changed drastically over the last five or six years. Very few teams have dominant big men. You might have two or three low-post dominant players in the league – Shaq, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming – after that, players become more perimeter oriented. I think the game has changed because of the zone. If you look at some of the best teams in the league, like Dallas and Phoenix, they didn’t have any kind of low post presence to speak of this season. Brendan Haywood had some good moments playing against Ilgauskas. He neutralized Ilgauskas in the playoffs and Ilgauskas was really their second option. For us, that was a nice performance from that standpoint. I think he has room for growth. Etan had a lot of injuries last year. He had some situations that he had to deal with and I think he has the opportunity to provide some good things for us. We all know that the strength of our ballclub, especially from an offensive standpoint, comes from the perimeter from Gilbert, Antawn and Caron. They are the highest scoring trio in the league and there is a lot to be said for that. Our offense comes through them, but we do need more from our big people up front and I think that the players that we have, have the ability to improve and to get better. We didn’t have a real problem in the regular season as far as rebounding, but I don’t think anybody questions that from a defensive standpoint we have to do a better job overall protecting the paint.”

On competition for playing time: “I’m glad that players aren’t happy when they’re benched because that tells me that they care enough to get their positions back. This is a competitive situation and the coach is going to put the players out there that he feels is going to help him win the most. I think it was a healthy competition during the season between Brendan and Etan. Etan started at the end of the season a little bit and Brendan started most of the year. Brendan is a professional. He works hard and he is going to show steady improvement. He is only 26 years old, as is Etan, and they still have plenty of room for growth.”

On ways to improve: “We have our first round pick this year and we have our second round pick. Last year we only had a second round pick and we got Andray Blatche -- who we feel has a lot of potential. This is going to be a very important summer for him and a very important summer for Donell Taylor and Peter Ramos to see what they can do and what they can give us. We’re going to spend a lot of time with them. They are going to be playing in summer league. They are going to be here working out – working on their individual skills, getting stronger, getting in condition. I think that for those that saw those young players play, they had some real good moments. Obviously they need more playing time and they need to be part of the mix. They need to get their confidence level up and I think that those players have a chance to be solid NBA players.”

On potential additions in the off-season: “I think we’ve shown that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger, but the Yao Mings and Shaquilles don’t just grow on trees and plop into your hands that easily. To get something really good, you have to give up something really good also. If we were going to get one of those types of players, another General Manager isn’t just going to hand me something on a silver platter. We want to improve in every area, and I think we have people in place to do the job.”

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