The Wizards made the playoffs. Now what?
Ted Leonsis has written about the franchise’s continued goals on his blog, but he talked about them more expansively in a recent interview with his own Monumental Network.
“I don’t think we’ll rest until we can be honest competitors for a ring,” Leonsis told Casey Phillips. “I think winning a championship is why we’re doing this. But you can’t win a championship unless you qualify for the playoffs, and that’s how I’ve always looked at it: That that’s the first step. And for a rebuilding team, you really saw that [Monday]. We took our team photo. And as I was walking up, I looked at the team, and I compared it in my mind to the first year we owned the team and the team photo. And the only people who were here when we took the first team photo were John Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. They’re our longest-tenured players.
“And to have three players on their rookie contracts starting — which we’ve been with Booker and Wall and Beal — we promised we would build around the draft and around young players. We said we would retain our young players, and obviously last offseason we were able to do that with John Wall signing a five-year extension. And then we said we would make good trades and bring in savvy vets. And I think you’re seeing that now. You look at the team photo, and there’s this great mix of young players and players who have been through the wars.
“And so I’m pleased with the culture change we’ve made, I’m pleased that the team still has upside, and I’ve very pleased that we set out as a collective goal to quality for the playoffs and we’ve met that first goal. As I wrote about on my blog, I thought it was a modest but positive step forward, and I feel good about it, but I certainly don’t want the organization to say we’ve made it. It’s a first step on a long, positive journey together.”
Later, Leonsis was asked about his larger goals, and the way he measures success as a pro sports owner.
“Being able to build perennial contenders is really what I’d like to be able to do, and then to be able to win a championship,” the owner said. “As I’ve noted just time and time again, we’re going to spend to the max. We’ve made those investments in all of our teams. We honestly can’t spend more money.
“And then you hope that you’ve developed the players the right way, and that you’ve made infrastructure and the right decisions that position you to be a good team for a long, long time. And you want to see teams that have some upside, that can continue their improvement and be able to do well in the playoffs, get through the next round, and keep building until you can win a championship.
“So I think the Wizards, this is the first step. It seems like forever. It’s the fourth year since we’ve owned the team. And when John Wall is your most tenured player, and he’s still playing on his rookie contract, I think it says a lot for the risk we took and why I’m so grateful to our fans. I told our fans that this is going to be a really really long, tough road to travel, that rebuilding teams, usually the way you get better is you’re bad so that you can draft high. And several of the players that we picked — John Wall and Bradley Beal — are playing big, big minutes. And I think the industry word is that we’re going to have one of the best backcourts if not the best backcourt in the league for years to come, because we have this great, complementary set of skills. …
“And so we want to continue to add to the team. I think we’re managing the salary cap situation the right way. Hopefully we can still grow the team by bringing in players. We can retain the players that we want. Signing John to his contract and him wanting to be here, I think, is a great statement to our fans. I think that our fans are turning out in record numbers. The renewal rates at this point in the year are very very strong, above the league average. We’re certainly one of the 10 fastest-growing teams in the NBA right now, and I think that’s all coming together.
“But we can’t fool ourselves,” Leonsis concluded. “Our fans want to see us continue to improve and to be a team that’s talked about as being a championship contender. And I believe we have the resources and the wherewithal to build that for our great fanbase.”