Ernie Grunfeld on Contract Extension: “I wasn’t that concerned about it. This is the second year of our rebuild.”

April 25, 2012 – 9:00 am by Steven Cuce

Ernie Grunfeld celebrated his 57th birthday in style this week by signing a contract extension to stay on with Washington. The Wizards president has been with the organization for nine years and there was some speculation surrounding his future. Washington is 18-46 (2nd worst in the Eastern Conference) as the season winds down and is heading towards the NBA lottery for the fourth consecutive season.

From the sound of it Grunfeld never sounded worried about his job, which may be surprising to some. The Wizards hope to land a marquee player in the NBA draft and possibly add a valuable veteran piece to the ball club in the off-season.

Ernie Grunfeld joined ESPN 980 in D.C. with Inside the Locker Room to discuss never being worried about his job security despite the Washington Wizards struggles, his expectations for the Wizards next season in the final phase of a rebuilding plan, the future of Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche with the Wizards, Randy Wittman getting credit for the improvement there has been in the Wizards since the trade deadline and his message to the Wizards fan base on a promising team for the future.

Are you relieved to get the contract extension over with. There was a perception you would be gone after this season. Did you feel that way?

“I wasn’t that concerned about it. We had a game plan that we wanted to execute when Ted [Leonsis] bought the team. I think we are very transparent about it that we were going to rebuild through the draft with young players, try to develop them and then when they started coming along we were going to try to add a veteran piece here or there to try to solidify things and that’s what we are trying to do. This is the second year of our rebuild and we are just trying to focus on that and try to do the best job I could. I’ve always found I have been in the sports industry now since 1977 when I got drafted to play for the Bucks and every year is basically the same. You try to do the best job you can and let the chips fall where they may. I am glad they fell the right way for me this time.”

Where did you expect this team to be in this three-year rebuilding plan? Where do you expect the team to be next year?

“Well obviously we want to show improvement every year. We want to get to a point where we are perennial playoff contenders. We have a lot of young pieces, a lot of young assets and we are adding a couple of veterans to show them leadership and we want to be better next year. It’s going to be a big summer for our young players. They are going to have work very hard this off-season. They are going to have to improve next season. We are going to get a very good player in the draft next year and then we are going to have to incorporate that player and we have some salary cap flexibility should we choose to use it and if the right player is out there to add another piece through free agency.”

How do Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche fit into the future of this team?

“Once the season is over we are going to sit down and we are going to evaluate the whole situation and we’ll have to make some decisions on those players moving forward and they are going to have to work hard this summer and see where they are and that will play into the decision making process.”

Do you like the philosophy of this team? They seem to have bought into defense. Where do we go from this point in terms of the bench and coaches?

“One of the things that I think that has been impressive in the last 4-6 weeks especially since we made the trade is that we played much better defense. Our defensive numbers show that. Defensive field goal percentage has gone down. Points allowed have gone down. We are helping each other with communicating much better defensively. That’s been a big improvement and also we are playing much better as a team on the offensive end. I think a lot of credit has to go to Randy Wittman and his staff. Randy has done a very good job. I think these players have responded to him. We have competed and played hard on a nightly basis and I think we have shown a lot of improvement, so Randy has done a nice job and every year once the season is over we are going to sit down and we are going to evaluate. There is a process that goes through that, but Randy has to get some credit for the improvement of this team down the stretch.”

What is your message to the fan base that wants to know how this team will improve?

“I understand. Like I said everything is a process. We are going to evaluate everything as we move forward. I appreciate our fans that were in the building last night that were cheering. They were into the game because they saw good basketball and they saw players giving good effort and I think that’s what fans want to see most of the time. They want to see good effort and they want to see the game being played the right way and I think we are giving them some of that in the last six weeks to maybe two months. We are getting better at that and again we are going to evaluate everything as we forward and we appreciate our fans. This is a great basketball city and when we were going to the playoffs 4 years in a row we were having sellouts and the crowd was extremely supportive and we want to get the team back to that level where we have sellouts every night and the fans are cheering for us and we realize was have to give them something to cheer about, but I think we are headed in that direction right now.”

Listen to Ernie Grunfeld on ESPN 980 in D.C. here

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