Ted Leonsis on LeBron James, Wizards free agency and the ‘meltdown’ on draft day


(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Wizards Coach Randy Wittman and senior vice president Tommy Sheppard flew to Poland to meet with free agent center Marcin Gortat over the weekend, and Wittman and VP of Player Programs Ed Tapscott are scheduled to meet with the the team’s other top free agent, Trevor Ariza, today. During an interview with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis reiterated that Washington’s focus will be on retaining its own players this offseason, and not making a run at a big-name outsider such as LeBron James.

“You’d have to have cap space and you’d have to renounce all your free agents,” Leonsis said when asked whether the Wizards had even explored the possibility of trying to lure James to Washington. “Then you’d have to be able to call their agent and say, ‘Would you think he would consider coming here?’ So, I never understood the grandstanding. Some of the bloggers have said, just get in the mix and throw your name out there. Okay, so you generate positive pixels and it creates these faux expectations, and LeBron is in total control of his future. LeBron will do what LeBron wants to do. We have to be able to control what we want to control, and right now our main targets are retaining our players.

“When you look in the East, there were two all-star centers last year, in the East. Who were they? It was the two centers we played against in the playoffs, both from Indiana and from Chicago. And our center played very well there. It’s incumbent upon us to try and do everything we can to keep our front line together. And so, that’s our main focus right now. And we can manage our cap in the out years the right way, we still will have some maneuverability this year to add more pieces, but we have a plan and we have our budget and we know what’s doable. Our main focus and priority is to try to keep our team together to start and then add to it.”

Leonsis reemphasized that focus and the team’s plans for future years later in the interview.

“If we can keep the team together and then add to it, I think we can be a perennial playoff team,” Leonsis said. “And then we can add to it as the cap goes up in the out years. I’m still hopeful that we can bring in a transformative, name free agent, but they want to play with teams that are really good. They want to be the piece that kind of gets you over the top. So our key goal right now is to keep what we have and incrementally add to it, and then in the out years be able to compete and bring someone in who goes, ‘Yeah, this is a great situation.’

Leonsis also addressed the Wizards’ decision to sell their second-round pick for cash:

“There was a player drafted literally right in front of us that we thought would be a great addition to the team,” Leonsis said. “We would stash him in Europe and help him to develop, but he got picked. You had a unique situation where the Lakers and the Knicks were desperate for assets. … Yeah, we took that deal, but it wasn’t because we weren’t interested in moving up or getting a player. But I can relate and understand why fans go, ‘Jeez, I spent all this time watching the draft and you ended up selling it.’ But it wasn’t just for the money. It was because, strategically, we wanted a first-round pick. We were willing to write a check and trade players or trade picks, but we couldn’t get things done. I do find it ironic that Larry Bird did the exact same thing in Indiana and it was called a savvy move. And we did something similar and some of the bloggers and some of the people on Twitter had a total meltdown.”

With the NHL free agency beginning, Leonsis said he hopes that new Capitals coach Barry Trotz’s reputation will help attract players to Washington.

“Barry was certainly the hottest, most experienced and most in demand coach out there,” Leonsis said. “We were fortunate; he really liked the opportunity. He liked the lineup. He saw our cap space and what we could do, and our commitment to spend to the cap.  He was able to come and I think he’ll help us. He certainly was able to help us attract experienced and really, really good assistant coaches. I think a lot of free agents will look at us now. He has such a good reputation of being a fair and honest and successful coach. They know the system that he coaches and the system that they play, and I’m hopeful that helps us attract free agents today.”

You can listen to Leonsis’s entire interview here.

Scott Allen writes about all things DC sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.
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