- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2011

With a 23-59 season in the books, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld is beginning to reshape the team for next year, but he is taking a few positives from the lessons learned this year.

“We had a game plan going into last season, and that was to build through the draft, to develop our young players and try to gain as much cap flexibility as possible moving forward,” Grunfeld said during his final postseason interview.

Grunfeld also was pleased with the development with several players who could become the Wizards’ foundation.

“JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young all had the best years of their careers. I think we saw some real improvement in some of the young players, but we knew it was going to be a painful process because anytime you go with youth, you’re going to be a little bit inconsistent,” he said.

Grunfeld referred to this past season as a transition year, with the Wizards putting about three different lineups on the court. The team started the season with Gilbert Arenas, then traded him to the Orlando Magic for Rashard Lewis, which put Young into the starting lineup, then subtracted Kirk Hinrich from the roster by trading him to the Atlanta Hawks for Jordan Crawford and Mo Evans.

“We know it’s going to take us some time to get the whole package together. It’s not a one-year process; it’s an ongoing process. But I think the experience that our players gained is going to help us next year,” Grunfeld said.

In the upcoming NBA draft, Washington will have its first-round pick (slotted to be the fourth overall), Atlanta’s pick (from the Hinrich trade, 18th overall), and its second-round pick, the 34th selection.

The Wizards will be looking for players to complement their future star, point guard John Wall.

“Wall showed this season that he’s a real legitimate player. He improved as the season went along. He started off well, then he had some injuries, but after the all-star break, he played with a lot of intensity and showed real good leadership for a player his age,” Grunfeld said.

The Wizards have seven players under contract - Wall, Crawford, Lewis, McGee, Blatche, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker - and about $40 million committed to player salaries for next season.

But until a new collective-bargaining agreement is reached, it is unknown exactly what the salary cap will be for 2011-2012. This past season, the cap was $58 million.

“Ultimately, we want guys here that are going to compete hard every single night and want to win and are willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the team,” Grunfeld said.

“At the end of the day, the players will tell us who should be part of that final core because our goal is to get back to the playoffs as soon as possible.”