- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Milwaukee Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld was released from the final year of his contract yesterday, clearing the way for the Washington Wizards to hire him as president of basketball operations perhaps as early as the middle of the week, according to several league sources.

“I have one year left on my contract and the Bucks graciously have allowed me to resign and seek other employment,” Grunfeld said in a statement. “I appreciate that. I have been treated well in Milwaukee and we have had success. I wish only the best for the Bucks and [owner Herb Kohl] in the future.”

Grunfeld is expected to begin negotiating with the Wizards today.

The news that Grunfeld finally was being made available to the Wizards came following the announcement that Kohl would not sell the team to Michael Jordan or anyone else.

“Since Ernie has thoroughly and effectively directed our critical 2003 NBA Draft process and with the player transaction completed Friday, we felt it was appropriate to allow him to pursue other NBA openings,” Kohl said. “We fully appreciate his leadership during the past four seasons.”

The Bucks later issued a statement detailing Kohl’s reasons for not wanting to sell the team to Jordan, who the Wizards did not reinstate as president of basketball operations shortly after the conclusion of the regular season.

“I think Michael will be an excellent owner of an NBA franchise and have encouraged him, for the benefit of the NBA, to continue his consideration of such an investment. On balance, I simply decided that I am not yet prepared to sell the team at this time and have instructed my representatives, accordingly,” Kohl said in the statement.

Meantime, the Wizards have scheduled a news conference for 2:30p.m. today to introduce draft picks Jarvis Hayes and Steve Blake.

One source said the conference “could indeed” include the introduction of Grunfeld as the team’s newest executive.

“They reached agreement with Eddie Jordan in one day, so that’s not out of the realm of possibility,” the source said.

The Wizards hired Eddie Jordan to replace fired coach Doug Collins almost two weeks ago.

Grunfeld has been the general manager in Milwaukee since Aug.13, 1999.

The Wizards first made overtures to Grunfeld to run their basketball operations not long after owner Abe Pollin informed Michael Jordan his contract would not be renewed with the team last month.

Since that time the Wizards are known to have interviewed former Maryland star Len Elmore for the job. No other candidates have been confirmed as having had interviews, but Pollin has maintained he has “talked with several” candidates for the job and would continue his pursuit until “the best possible” hire could be made.

Although the Wizards reportedly also were interested in talking to NBA executive and Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier, the two sides have never met regarding the job. Adding to the speculation that Grunfeld has been targeted from the start is that the Wizards never contacted Elmore for a second interview.

Hiring Grunfeld would complete an already frenzied offseason that has seen the Wizards fire Michael Jordan and his hand-picked coach and then hire former Nets assistant Eddie Jordan to replace Collins.

In addition, former GM Wes Unseld, who oversaw the team’s draft last week, has cleaned out his office and is preparing to have both knees replaced. Unseld promised Pollin he would stay on until the draft and acknowledged it would be the last draft he oversaw. However, according to sources, Unseld has told Pollin and Washington Sports & Entertainment president Susan O’Malley he would stay on longer if necessary.

Unseld orchestrated a two-year extension worth approximately $18million for Jerry Stackhouse. Before the extension Stackhouse had two more seasons remaining on his contact, valued at about $14million.

The new deal will pay him approximately $32-34million through the 2006-07 season.

Adding Grunfeld now is crucial for the Wizards because the NBA’s free agency period begins tomorrow.

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