- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

Ernie Grunfeld is armed with a newly inked four-year contract extension as he enters his 17th NBA season as a personnel guru.

That comes out to 14 playoff appearances, two trips to the NBA Finals and the 2-for-18 shooting performance of John Starks in Game 7 in 1994.

The latter is the only circumstance that stands between Grunfeld and a championship ring.

The itchy trigger finger of Starks was not his idea. That onus was on Pat Riley, who allowed the infamous number to evolve incrementally in the course of a 48-minute game.

“I don’t blame John at all, because in the games before that, he was great,” Grunfeld said yesterday by telephone in Richmond, where the Wizards are holding training camp. “That was a great year, very exciting, and we had our chances in that series.”

Grunfeld barely missed a third trip in the NBA Finals in 2001, when the Bucks fell to the 76ers in seven games in the conference finals.

The future face of the organization already was in place, courtesy of Grunfeld.

Michael Redd was a second-round afterthought on the 2001 team, hardly envisioned to be a potential All-Star, as he turned out to be.

That is one of Grunfeld’s gifts, seeing something in players that others do not.

His signing of Gilbert Arenas in 2003 reflects that power, for Arenas was no two-time All-Star then.

It was suggested at the time that perhaps the Wizards were guilty of overpaying Arenas. Three seasons later, the six-year, $65-million contract that was awarded to Arenas is viewed as a bargain, and not just because of the bare numbers.

Grunfeld thinks Arenas has come to redefine what sweaty diligence is, once embodied in the fierce competitiveness of Bernard King, Grunfeld’s old Tennessee running mate.

Grunfeld believes he possibly has found another second-round gem in Andray Blatche, whose rookie season was notable only because of the slug he took to his chest in a carjacking gone bad.

If not, the cost is minimal, no small consideration to those who run NBA teams, Isiah Thomas excluded.

Grunfeld is obligated to have one eye on the court and the other on the salary cap. Players are measured not only by their statistical numbers but by the number of zeroes in their contracts.

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