Ted Leonsis’s first trip to the NBA draft lottery was so much more rewarding than his past two journeys. A few weeks before he claimed majority ownership of the Wizards, his new team won the right to draft John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick.
Since then, the Wizards have fallen two spots to No. 6 in 2011 and dropped back one spot to No. 3 on Wednesday night. Leonsis sent his son, Zach, to represent the franchise on stage and didn’t sound very disappointed that the team couldn’t claim the right to draft Anthony Davis.
“I was pretty happy, because you always want to get one of the top two or three guys and we’re going to get a really good player with the No. 3 pick,” Leonsis said while speaking with reporters after the lottery at the Disney/ABC Time Square Studios.
But Leonsis also added that he would rather be elsewhere in May, instead of waiting to see Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver reveal the fate of the franchise by pulling a placard from an envelope.
“I don’t want to be in the lottery anymore. It’s not a lot of fun,” Leonsis said, before adding, “Without pain, there is no gain.”
Leonsis had a lot more to say about the direction of the team, the coaching situation involving Randy Wittman, and his desires to get the team back in the playoffs.
On plans with the third pick: I don’t think we know who we’ll take with that pick. I think the workouts are really, really important and doing all of the interviews. And I want to spend a lot of time, making sure that the young men that we bring in fit culturally. We now have a really, really serious team. A team that wants to get better, wants to work really hard and that chemistry and that basketball IQ and that character level is really important to us as a team.
On Randy Wittman’s future: Randy is under contract. And right now, he’s our coach. And I was very impressed with the job that Randy did. But more importantly, I was impressed during the exit interviews. To a man, the players all felt that the way that we played after the trade wasn’t fool’s gold. It wasn’t the end of the season and other teams weren’t trying. That this was a serious team. A team that was playing for one another. A team that’s coachable and working really, really had and it started to see the lights turning on, that if they played the right way they would get results. So we started to take that into consideration, but the players really liked the coach and the staff. That speaks volumes on what decision we’ll have to make.
On what the team needs going forward: We need more vets. We saw how the whole atmospherics of the locker room and the team changed when we brought in Nene. He’s a really, really solid player and I like that we are building a culture, where the team is first. It starts with your point guard and John would be happy as a player, because he knows that he will be rewarded if we win. It’s not going to be about stats. It’s going to be how the team does and he’s such a fundamentally good person, he wants to make the players around him better and Nene is a very unselfish player and having your big man and your point guard be players that want the team have success. And I see that a lot in the international players. Jan [Vesely] is very fundamentally sound. And isn’t about stats and we saw [Kevin] Seraphin who was a revelation. We saw him play a lot like that in practice. But to see that confidence at game time and see a big man of his size have that kind of foot work, great hands, be able to go left and right and Nene was like a coach on the floor for him. He was our big man coach.
So we’re going to continue to invest, continue to make big investments in player development. We know the D-League is very important. We know using stats and new technology will be very important for us. But I think we’ve now had our fill of young players. Two years of owning the team, three offseasons, it’s almost like you’re an expansion team. We could have nine first- or second-year players, all that we’ve drafted or brought in via trade. That was a very, very fast rebuild. We brought in Nene, hoping this year, either through trades or free agents, we could be additive to the team, bring in more vets and I think we’re going to get a player. Somebody who is going to be a foundational player for us with the third pick in the draft.
On the time being right to start expecting wins: I knew what we were in for and having a lot of these young players. As they get better, the team will get better, but we’re not shy about investing and spending the money. I just want to be smart about it and make sure the free agents we bring in, the trades that we make are good ones. You know, Nene was the most coveted free agent last offseason. We brought him here at a different circuitous route, but when you have a really good big man and a really, really good point guard, now you can add another talent and start to build around them and I think we’re on our way.
On the draft position: Right now, I think everyone was excited about the potential No. 1 pick in the draft. But my experience has been that there’s lots and lots of great players, some in the second round and we have a high second round pick, but we’re going to get better with the rookie class the first year, John Wall’s class taking a big step this offseason and the kinds form last year improving dramatically year over year and an influx of talent and then we have to add the right mix of vets around them. But I’m hopeful the rebuild is over. I’m sure we’ll have rough times. But we have enough young players. We have an injection of talent and now it’s time to build a good team, a team that the fans can be proud of, and try to be a playoff team.
On the offseason for the team: The whole offseason is going to be a busy offseason, certainly different from last offseason. Last offseason was very frustrating. We were in a lockout. We weren’t even able to talk to the players. This offseason, we’ve been able to program every single day for every young player. What they should be doing with strength and conditioning, with shooting coaches, where they should be in the summer league. We’re visiting them back in, so player development is really, really important. Free agency will be an exciting for us, too. This whole offseason will go very, very quickly and before you know it, training camp will be open and we’ll be ready for next season.
On falling from second to third: It’s such a crap shoot. It’s amazing to have all of these franchises, with so many fans and you’re sitting around and there are ping-pong balls deciding your fate. This fortunately is a deep draft. We finished second, I knew we couldn’t finish any worse than fifth. Obviously, you wanted No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and so we made it through No. 5 and No. 4, I had big smile on my face. I knew we were going to get an impact player with the third pick in the draft.
On plans for the pick: We won’t be trading the third pick in the draft. I think we have to potential to add two players in the draft. That would be nine players. We have Nene. We now have to figure out what to do with the other vet spots. Who are we going to trade? Who are we going to buyout? What are we going to do in the offseason with free agency. So it will be very, very busy. But fundamentally, the way we are going to get better is the young players are going to step up.
More on offseason: We’ve laid out with John Wall’s people, every single day. Nutrition. Strength and conditioning. Shooting. Who he is going to be playing with. What he is doing on the business side. It just feels good that you can be in control of the outcome and these young kids are really to work. They got a taste what they can become and that was what was so important with the last month of the season. They saw that if they were serious, they could be coachable, and they played hard and they played defense. With their skills and talent, and the upside they hand, that we can become a good team.
More on Wittman: Randy is under contract. The entire staff is under contract. The most important signals to me, was in all the exit interviews, to a man, everyone thought that Randy did a fantastic job. So that gave me confidence that I should interview and I had a quality day with Randy. And we still talking through some things and I feel very, very comfortable that when Nene has been around and a John Wall, both say thiswas a coach that treated us the right way, respected the game and we listened to him. When a Kevin Seraphin comes in and says: ‘He trusted me. He’s making me a better player and I wanted him to yell at me. The more he yelled at me, the more I know he really cares.’ We have good data points. Ernie’s got some decisions to make. But I was very, very comfortable with the exit interviews and the input on the coach.
On why this decision has taken so long: We said we needed to be thoughtful. We needed to do a lot of work. There are a lot of analytics. I wanted to some time with him. We wanted to do the exit interviews, so there is no rush. As I said, he’s under contract.