- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

Ernie Grunfeld’s first major trade came shortly after he became general manager of the New York Knicks in the spring of 1991, when he sent former Maryland star Jerrod Mustaf to Seattle for Xavier McDaniel. It was the first of several controversial Grunfeld moves there, such as bringing Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby to New York for fan favorites John Starks and Charles Oakley.

In Milwaukee, he dealt Ray Allen to Seattle for Gary Payton in what was largely viewed as a cost-cutting measure. And he already has made his mark in Washington by acquiring Antawn Jamison from Dallas for malcontents Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner and the No.5 pick in last June’s draft.

“I inquired about [Jamison] before last season’s trade deadlines,” said the Wizards’ president of basketball operations. “I inquired about him before then. At the time, [the Mavericks] didn’t want to do anything. I let them know I had interest.

“Around the draft, we spoke several times. Dallas had its own issues. Then came the Steve Nash situation [the point guard leaving by free agency to sign with Phoenix], and they needed a draft pick. The draft pick was the key element in the trade. We kept massaging it.”

Grunfeld plants seeds throughout the league for players the Wizards would like to have, then follows up. He said he keeps close tabs on about 10 players around the league.

“You can make a deal with him,” said Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West, who previously built the Los Angeles Lakers into champions. “He understands what you have and what you are looking for. You get some offers [from other teams] that make no sense. … We bounce ideas off one another.”

Said Grunfeld: “There are no geniuses in this league. A deal has to work for both sides. You make the call and see what could be out there.”

And Grunfeld spends more time on the phone than a teenager with unlimited minutes.

“He’s a workaholic,” Wizards owner Abe Pollin said. “I call his office and the guy is always on the phone. He says, ‘I’ll get off if you want.’ I say, ‘No, call me back when you’re done.’”

Pollin doggedly pursued Grunfeld after informing Michael Jordan he would not return to the front office. Eventually Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who had considered selling the team, allowed the Wizards to speak to Grunfeld.

“I think it is one of the best moves I have done in the history of the franchise,” Pollin said. “I do admire guys with lots of brains, and he certainly has them.”

For all his big deals, Grunfeld might be most valuable at concocting the small ones. He not only goes shopping at Tiffany’s to land a high-priced star like Arenas, he shops at flea markets to find role players. He found veterans Anthony Peeler and Samaki Walker to strengthen the Wizards and signed Michael Ruffin, who has been valuable with big men Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas injured.

“Everybody looks at some of the bigger things we did: trading for Latrell, signing Allan Houston, trading for Larry Johnson,” said Ed Tapscott, a former Knicks personnel guru and now president of the Charlotte Bobcats, said. “It’s not hard to focus on top players in the league. The difference with Ernie is, he knows how to put the final piece in, what we call the ‘glue’ guys.”

That is no surprise considering Grunfeld himself was one of those “glue” guys during his playing career.

These days the basketball veteran feels good about what he has assembled in Washington but doesn’t plan to hang up the phone.

“We have some good pieces,” Grunfeld said. “We have a solid foundation. But now we have to wait and see if this foundation can come together. I believe in consistency and continuity. But if those foundation pieces don’t fit well, then some will have to be replaced.”

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