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For many rooting for Ernie Grunfeld, Bruce Allen gone beats rooting for wins

December 19, 2018

Generally speaking, reaching the playoffs is a good thing.

Teams toil through training camps and long seasons to earn an invitation to the after-party.

That’s the only shot at dancing with a trophy at the end, as the Washington Capitals demonstrated last summer.

But some franchises have conditioned fans to be less interested in short-term success i.e., a postseason berth in a given year and more concerned with purposeful losing i.e., better positioning to acquire foundational players.

The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs each endured multiple seasons of 90-plus losses before catapulting to become World Series champions. The Philadelphia 76ers made losing a process and now stand among the NBA’s finest in the Eastern Conference.

Accomplishing similar feats in the NFL is much harder (see: Browns, Cleveland), but that didn’t stop the New York Jets from willfully nose-diving last season for a better shot in the quarterback grab bag.

In the District, a different groundswell is forming among fans of the NBA and NFL franchises.

These fans’ biggest motivation isn’t losses to create a succession of postseason parties.

They want losses that trigger going-away parties for team architects Ernie Grunfeld and Bruce Allen.

Grunfeld’s recent maneuvers to acquire Trevor Ariza and Sam Dekker could help the Wizards reach the playoffs for a third consecutive season and the fifth time in six years. Woo-hoo! A majority of the fan base might prefer an 0-82 season if it led to Grunfeld’s removal from the helm.

The Wizards’ general manager has proven a master of making a hard bed and adding pillows to make ease the pain.

The Wizards are hamstrung by three maximum-salary players John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter surrounded by ill-fitting/inadequate complementary players, making Washington a noncontender in the grand scheme.

The Wizards executive’s latest move was classic Grunfeld.

Over the weekend, he acquired 33-year-old Ariza in exchange for 20-somethings Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers.

In 2014, he opted to let Ariza walk and keep Marcin Gortat.

Last offseason, he traded Gortat for Rivers. We’re left with a four-year-older version of Ariza, with no big man, no youth, and not anything else to show.

The team is treading quicksand. It can beat the LeBron Lakers one night and lose to lowly Atlanta the next.

Winter is coming, too, in the form of Wall’s supermax contract extension.

The roster needs more than a nip and tuck, but no one wants the scalpel in Grunfeld’s hand.

Failing to make the playoffs with a Top 6 payroll might accelerate the decision for Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

Squeaking in as the seventh or eighth seed shouldn’t make a difference, but many fans would rather not take that chance.

The situation is similar in Ashburn, where resentment toward Allen boils over and long-term stability remains elusive.

A playoff berth is still possible. But it’s likely that an overwhelming percentage of the fan base would prefer to skip the postseason and have Allen skip town instead.

A starting quarterback and the head coach are just two of the team’s pressing concerns for next season. Based on Allen’s track record as chief executive (59-82-1) there’s zero confidence in his ability to fix the organization. Whether the team goes 9-7 and bows out in the first round, or goes 7-9 and stays home yet again, the fact remains that change is necessary.

Owner Dan Snyder can’t point to a modicum of success like his counterpart has enjoyed recently.

Fans hope Snyder finally is convinced to make a move now, but they realize the cause might be helped if Washington misses the playoffs for the 15th time in 20 seasons. Some faithful followers and dogged devotees are conflicted in rooting against wins. It feels unnatural to hope your team comes up short in a playoff push. But the other fans are willing to roll the dice and hope short-term pain leads to long-term gain.

They realize there’s no guarantee that replacements for Grunfeld and Allen would do any better. But doing much worse seems unlikely.

They aren’t requesting new leadership for change’s sake. They’re imploring Leonsis and Snyder: “Take a chance, for heaven’s sake!”

The Wizards’ odds of reaching the playoffs are much better, not dependent on improbabilities like, say, winning their final two games and getting help from Kirk Cousins. But regardless of what happens for either team, most fans are dissatisfied with the outlook moving forward.

Players, coaches and owners would love to celebrate extending the season.

Many supporters would reject that luxury. They know the sooner these campaigns end, the sooner someone can be brought in and start cleaning up the mess.

If nonstop losing is the price until then, so be it.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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