In the spirt of NBA free agency, I recently sat down with the organizer behind the #FireErnie campaign Matthew Mason. Matthew, like seemingly every Wizards fan these days, is fed up with General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, the difference is Matthew decided to do something about it.
For anyone already sold the link is https://www.gofundme.com/gfvfh-fire-ernie-grunfeld.
Q: Hi Matthew, welcome to Terptalk! To start with, where are you from and how long have you been a Wizards fan?
A: I’ve been a Wizards fan for most of my life. I’m from Southern Virginia, so DMV area teams are pretty popular where I’m from. I was a casual fan until about four years ago, when I started to really get into the NBA. I started watching games most nights, if the Wizards were on they took priority. I’ve probably watched about sixty to seventy Wizards games a season since then.
Q: Are the Wizards your favorite team in all of sports, if so why? If not, who is and why?
A: Absolutely, even in some of our better years everyone seems to count the Wizards out, they don’t seem to get any respect from the national media. The lack of attention makes it really easy and really fun to rally behind them as a sort of underdog. I’m not really a huge fan of any other sports league except the NFL. I grew up a Ravens fan and still am, but they almost never show Ravens games in my area on TV so it’s really easy to lose interest. Plus, the NBA is just a much better managed league than the NFL, and basketball is a much more entertaining sport in my mind.
Q: Who is your favorite Wizards player of all time and why?
A: Without a doubt it has to be John Wall. He’s everything a point guard should be, a lot of players talk about caring more about how much they love passing and getting assists, but Wall is one of the few who seems like he really means it.
Whether its pick and roll, leading the break, or slashing into the lane, he’s always a threat to unlock a defense, find an open man or make the layup himself. Plus, his athleticism means he is a highlight waiting to happen and he is just an overall joy to watch.
Q: What do you think of Ernie Grunfeld?
A: Ernie has to be one of the worst GM’s in the league, and certainly the only one this bad who has kept his job.
Q: I see that a lot, that Ernie has been in charge for so long despite his ineptitude, why do you think that is?
A: I think his ineptitude gets ignored because the Wizards have been a playoff contender for a while now, so casual fans and fans of other teams just assume he must be doing an okay job. People forget how long he’s been at the helm [since 2003] and how long it took for us to become a consistent contender. He has made a few good moves, but they were almost all no-brainers. [John] Wall, [Bradley] Beal, and Otto [Porter] are an amazing core and he drafted all of them. However, you need to remember though that they were all pretty much the consensus picks at their spots in the draft. They were also all top three picks, a reward for sucking for such a long time, so that’s supposed to turn into a good core.
Q: Well, now that he has secured the core of winning team, how does he show growth?
A: In my mind Ernie should be judged based on his ability to build around the core. For every good move he makes, he makes about 3 or 4 disastrous ones, and I think it’s because he doesn’t really have a plan. Our core is locked up for a long time, so the goal should have been, and still should be, to build around them using our draft picks so we could have cost-controlled contracts. Instead, Ernie blew draft picks on dumping contracts and acquiring rentals in what seemed like “win now” moves, and in the process sacrificed our team’s future.
John Wall is the oldest of our core at only 27, yet Ernie was, and is, operating as if our window is closing. Our cap situation was always going to be tough since we have three max level players and we’ve never been a free agent destination. We should have been a lot more protective of our picks, but Ernie doesn’t seem to care as long as we can be a low-end playoff team.
Q: When did Ernie lose you?
A: Ernie really lost me in the summer of 2016. Not only did he give awful contracts, on top of that he failed to bring in any real talent during the last summer the Wizards would have any cap space for the foreseeable future. As fans we were told that we were pursuing Horford or Durant and we ended up with nothing but contracts we want to, or already have salary dumped. When Ernie failed to not only bring in top talent but then panicked and wasted the money I knew we’d hit our ceiling with him leading us.
Q: What do you think of Ted Leonsis and the Wizards coaching staff?
I think Ted overall isn’t a bad owner, other than his reluctance to fire Ernie I can’t really think of anything wrong he’s done. The Wizards have one of the higher payrolls in the league, ticket prices are high but could be a lot worse, and he did bring a championship to DC with another franchise [The Capitals]. If he were to fire Ernie and replace him with a top GM I’d really like him as an owner.
Scott Brooks has been exactly what we thought he would be when we hired him as KD bait. We’ve been fantastic at developing some of the younger players, and he’s had a big hand in that. He struggles with drawing up plays and it really shows at the end of close games, but hopefully he realizes that he needs to work on that and maybe brings in a new assistant to help out with that aspect of his game. He doesn’t exactly have the most effective schemes on either side of the ball, but again, with some new assistants coming in this summer I hope some of the new guys can help Scott with some of the more technical parts of being a coach and let him focus on player development and getting the best out of guys.
We have all the pieces to be a top team. A great lead ball handler as our best player, and great scorer as our second best, and a hyper-efficient off ball scorer and great defender as our third. Their games all seem to complement each other perfectly, so if we can get a savvy GM to fill out the rest of the roster, I like where we are.
Q: Despite the good moves that you pointed out, such as drafting Wall, Beal, Porter and some others such as Kelly Oubre and Tomáš Satoranský. Ernie has had a poor track record when it comes to the draft. I know there are some bad ones, but who is the worst pick in your opinion.
His worst draft pick has to be Jan Vesely. Obviously, the pick itself was a disaster, we only got three years out of a number 6 pick, and they weren’t even good years. There’s a little added bit of pain as well considering that Bogdanovic and Kieff were both taken after him that draft, and in the past two years we’ve given up first rounders to trade for them. That pick hurt as much as any other move Ernie has made.
Q: A lot of people really were upset about the draft a couple weeks ago. What did you think?
A: When the Wizards drafted Troy Brown, a move that just made no sense, I wanted him [Ernie] gone. We desperately needed an athletic big man, and we got another wing we probably could have traded down some and still gotten. Even if the FO (front office) was committed to taking a wing at our spot, I’m really disappointed we passed on Zhaire Smith. The FO could have at least gotten a local reporter to write a puff piece on Brown to prepare fans for the pick, but most of us were shocked at the move.
This also carries over to Issuf Sannon (the team’s second round a pick, a draft and stash point guard), the pick doesn’t really make sense from a team building standpoint. We lack depth at almost every position, so taking an experienced senior-type player out of college in the second round would’ve made sense. I don’t get the point in stashing a guy overseas when we’re struggling to fill out our roster. After talking with other fans, it seemed everyone hit a breaking point that night, which is why I started the GoFundMe to get Ernie out of DC.
Q: You said that this draft was the inciting incident for you starting the campaign to #FireErnie, why was this the last straw?
A: I personally had been done with him for a while. After this draft I started to get the sense that the fan base hit a new level of exhaustion with his bad decision making. I thought it would be a good idea to strike while the iron is hot and start fundraising during the offseason while Ernie was actively making bad decisions.
After Ernie missed out on Nerlens Noel in free agency, we received an influx of donations almost immediately, so I think that shows that as the off-season goes on and bad decisions continue, the movement will pick up steam and give fans a way to funnel their anger into something positive.
Q: The goal on GoFundMe is $6000, what do you plan to do if you reach your financial goal?
A: It would be fantastic if I reached that goal, but I know it’s not likely and I wouldn’t call the movement a failure if I don’t reach it. There are already almost enough funds to buy some low-level ads, and any attention I can draw to Ernie’s failures is a success in my mind.
Q: What do you hope to achieve by buying the ad?
A: I know an ad on its own won’t get Ernie fired, but I think it can still be useful for two reasons. One, hopefully Ted sees it and understands the depth of our frustration as fans. Two, a lot of campaigns like this get media attention. Ernie never gets media criticism in comparison to other equally as incompetent GMs so there’s no real pressure on Ted to fire him. Hopefully this helps draw a little more media attention to the mismanagement.
Q: Metro has rules against ads for “causes” how do you plan on getting around this rule?
A: I’ve contact an agent and have spoken to him about the rules. I have a few ideas that could technically make it a commercial ad, such as putting an “Fire Ernie” T-shirt on the website we plan on using, where all the proceeds are for charity or get put in to buy more fire Ernie ads.
Q: Metro has a seemingly pretty good relationship with Monumental Sports, this was especially prevalent during the Capitals playoff run. Do you think that this could get in the way of your ad?
A: I know Metro may end up not approving our ad, especially since they work with Monumental sports/. I’ve already looked at other places to advertise and through other mediums.
Q: There have been many fan campaigns to fire front offices in the past, have you looked to any of them for pointers.
A: Yeah, I actually got the idea from the New York Islanders, my roommate is a huge fan of them and I remember him talking about the fans getting a billboard about their own GM. He ended up essentially getting demoted. The Chicago Bulls did the same thing recently and their efforts didn’t work, so it’s had mixed results. All of the campaigns got some level of media coverage though, which is a good sign for us.
Q: Where can fans contact you for more info?
A: If any fans want to contact me, they can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message with their gofundme donation. The link is https://www.gofundme.com/gfvfh-fire-ernie-grunfeld
Q: Before we go, just to get everyone in the spirt, name your top five worst Ernie moves.
A: At 5 I’d put the Arenas contract. Every Wizards fan knows how that went
At number 4 I’d put his recent inability to get any guard depth. Our options were a little better this year but it still resulted in us having to sign Ty Lawson from China to play in the playoffs for us. Any time you have to start signing players from China to get playoff minutes, you’re doing something wrong.
At number 3 I’d but the Ian Mahinimi/Andrew Nicholson contract combo. Those contracts cost us a draft pick and all of our cap flexibility. Neither player had shown they were worth that money and we already had better players at their position under contract. Combine that with Ernie’s lack of ability to draw top free agents in a key summer and almost all of our current problems can be traced back to that summer. He couldn’t even get a meeting with Durant.
His worst decision has to be either the Jan Vesely pick which I already talked about, or the Mike Miller Randy Foye trade [the trade forfeited the number 5 pick in the 2005 NBA draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye]. We gave up what could have turned into an all-star level player for what we’re essentially role players. If you’re trading a top 5 pick it needs to be for an all-star. That trade made no sense at the time and is even more baffling looking back at it.
Thanks a lot to Matthew for agreeing to be interviewed! Once again, the link for the gofundme is https://www.gofundme.com/gfvfh-fire-ernie-grunfeld.
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