- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

RICHMOND — The Washington Wizards yesterday gave president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, who oversaw the team’s return to the playoffs the past two seasons, a multi-year contract extension.

“I’m appreciative and flattered that [team owner Abe Pollin] has been supportive of me and committed to the organization,” Grunfeld said yesterday afternoon. “He has provided us with the resources to be successful now and in the future of the franchise.”

Terms of the deal were not revealed.

In signing Grunfeld to an extension, Pollin now has secured the services of the two men who guided the Wizards to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1987. Pollin signed coach Eddie Jordan to an extension earlier this summer.

“Ernie has done an outstanding job in his tenure with the Wizards and is most deserving of this extension,” Pollin said. “From his first day, Ernie has worked tirelessly to improve our team, and everything he has done has been with an eye toward our long-term success. I’m proud of the direction our team is going, and with two consecutive playoff appearances behind us our future looks extremely bright.”

Grunfeld was hired in June 2003 and made a string of moves that quickly improved the fortunes of a franchise long regarded as one of the worst in the league.

The Wizards won just 25 games in their first season under Grunfeld, but he then made two moves that set the club on the path to the playoffs: the acquisition of guard Gilbert Arenas on the free-agent market and a 2004 draft-day deal with the Dallas Mavericks that exchanged cash, Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the rights to Devin Harris for forward Antawn Jamison.

Both Arenas and Jamison made their first career All-Star appearances as Wizards. Arenas last season posted the second-highest scoring average (29.4) in franchise history, second only to Walt Bellamy’s 31.6 in 1961-62. Jamison last season led all Eastern Conference players with 28 games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Grunfeld last summer pulled off what so far has been a lopsided deal in favor of the Wizards, sending former top pick Kwame Brown — a major disappointment for the club — and Laron Profit to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for forward Caron Butler and guard Chucky Atkins.

Atkins no longer is with the Wizards, but Butler posted career highs in points (17.6), shooting percentage (.455) and rebounds (6.2) and played a major role in the team’s return to the playoffs.

Grunfeld also signed guard Antonio Daniels last summer, with more good results. Daniels was the team’s top reserve, averaging 9.6 points and 3.3 assists and committing just 1.10 turnovers per game.

This offseason, Grunfeld added guard DeShawn Stevenson via free agency in what could turn out to be another steal. For less than $1 million, the Wizards acquired a player who started 82 games for the Orlando Magic and averaged 11 points. Another move — the acquisition of forward/center Darius Songaila — in free agency also seems promising.

Pollin hired Grunfeld in the wake of the Wizards’ messy parting with Michael Jordan. Fourteen of the 16 teams that Grunfeld has fielded (including the New York Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks) reached the playoffs, and twice the Knicks teams he assembled reached but failed to win the NBA Finals.

Note — Count Gilbert Arenas among the players who don’t like the new ball the NBA will use this season.

“I don’t know why they changed it,” Arenas, looking disgusted, said while holding a basketball following practice. “It gets slick after you go up and down the court a few times. There are going to be more turnovers than there used to be.”

One day earlier Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal criticized the new ball as well.

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