- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The revamping of the Washington Wizards’ front office came to a close yesterday with the hiring of Ernie Grunfeld as president of basketball operations, and no one was more happy than owner Abe Pollin.

“Well,” Pollin said, reclining in his chair during an MCI Center news conference to introduce Grunfeld, “I’m 4-for-4. Four-for-four. From my standpoint, those of you in the media who have said that Mr. Pollin is over the hill, incompetent and doesn’t know what he’s doing … I got the guys I wanted to head this organization.”

The other major front office vacancy was filled when Pollin tabbed former New Jersey Nets assistant Eddie Jordan almost two weeks ago to replace Doug Collins as coach. Rounding out Pollin’s “4-for-4” are Jarvis Hayes and Steve Blake, the 10th and 38th picks overall, respectively, in last week’s NBA Draft.

Hayes, a forward from Georgia, and former Maryland point guard Blake also were introduced yesterday. They will wear jersey Nos. 24 and 2, respectively.

But yesterday’s focus was on Grunfeld, the man who replaces Michael Jordan as the top executive for the Wizards.

It had been speculated for weeks that Grunfeld had emerged as the leading candidate to succeed Michael Jordan, who was fired in an affair so ugly that Pollin decided to offer refunds to season ticket holders not satisfied with the organization’s moves this summer.

However, until the last few days Milwaukee Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who had been looking to sell the team, was not allowing Grunfeld, 48, to talk with potential suitors. Portland also tried without success to contact Grunfeld, who had one year remaining on his contract as the Bucks’ GM.

Kohl, who this week decided against selling the team, finally gave Grunfeld permission to speak with the Wizards, and by yesterday morning a deal had been struck.

Grunfeld is viewed around the league as one of the better minds in basketball. During his seven-year tenure as New York’s general manager, the Knicks reached the NBA Finals twice. And during his four-year term as general manger in Milwaukee, the Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001.

At the top of his immediate concerns is free agency, which began this morning at 12:01. Teams and players now are permitted to negotiate but can’t sign contracts until July16. Grunfeld’s long-term assignment is to reinvigorate a franchise that has not won a playoff series in 21 years.

“I think it’s going to be a real honor for me to work here,” said Grunfeld, who celebrated his 24th wedding anniversary yesterday. “We are going to put out a product that is fun, that is going to be competitive, and we are going to do it the right way. We are not going to build a team that is going to make a playoff run one time. We want to build a playoff team that can be a contender for years to come.”

Although Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan don’t know each other well, they will become much more familiar over the coming days, something that will be of great importance in an era when coaches and GMs are forced to work closer than they have in the past.

Jordan said chemistry between the two is almost as important as the on-court relationship between players.

“It is very important,” Jordan said. “And yet we don’t know what type of chemistry Ernie and I are going to have. I have a feeling it’s going to be good, but that’s something we have to work out and we have to get through. We know talent is number one in the league. He knows talent, and I know talent. We’ve been around.”

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