Ted Leonsis is approaching his third full season as owner of the Wizards and he is obviously growing impatient with the rebuilding efforts. Leonsis wants to make the playoffs next season and expects the Wizards’ offseason moves – retaining Randy Wittman, trading for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, drafting Bradley Beal, hiring assistant Don Newman and amnestying Andray Blatche – to help end the franchise’s four-year postseason drought.
In a lengthy interview with Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, Leonsis discussed a wide array of topics and explained many of the moves he has made — and hasn’t made — since purchasing the team from the Pollin family. Leonsis was frank in saying Gilbert Arenas “traded himself to Orlando” and adding, “We were getting zero from Rashard” Lewis before dealing him to New Orleans.
But Leonsis is clearly ready to distance himself from the past two seasons, in which the Wizards have gone 43-105 and remained one of the league’s worst teams. “I won’t be happy with our plan if we’re back in the lottery,” Leonsis said. “If we just miss making a playoff spot, no, the world is not going to end. If we’re picking third because we have the second-worst record, no, I will not be happy. I want to see demonstrable…we’ve turned over the roster, turned over the coaching staff. We’ve had good drafts.”
So, the pressure is on. The full interview is worth the read, but here are some of the highlights:
On how this team is different from last year’s team: “Culturally, every one of these guys is a good guy. It’s a big change. And no one is playing for a contract. I don’t think Nick [Young] and JaVale [McGee] were bad people. But they wanted stats. I understand that, relate and get it. But they weren’t playing as a team. You saw at the end of the year with Nene, who already got his big contract, right. So stats weren’t important to him. The little things were important to him.”
On why he has avoided making big moves in free agency: “What our belief is, we’re hoping John Wall and Beal become real stars that we keep and kind of build around them. Can Wall and Beal and Crawford one day be Isiah, Dumars and the Microwave? Right, I mean, that would be a pretty good back court. John has a lot of upside still in his game. Compare his stats the first two years in the league against the star guards and point guards in the league — Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Rondo — he compares favorably with them. So this is an important year for John. We wanted to get grownups around him and get mentors for those kids. But our bet is, build a good team. In the out years, when Wall, Beal, Seraphin and Vesely are coming on the second contracts, we want to be able to keep them. By doing the deal for Okafor and Ariza, we traded unknown for known. The danger in free agency is, just because you want them doesn’t mean they want you.”
On when he expects superstar players the caliber of Dwight Howard would want to play in D.C.: “I think when we can establish we’re a perennial playoff team and when we have one or two young stars — real, legitimate stars. Everyone knows that John Wall is a burgeoning star, but he’s not playing tonight. He’s playing in the league that gets them ready. But I think most people in the league feel this year, next year that John has the opportunity, if he improves, to be a real star player.
I view it as my part of my mission as an owner to create an environment, fan base and player development system that allows him to be a star. I think it’s a two-way street. You can’t put the onus on just the player. You have to surround him with the right people, have the right coaches.”
On why he decided to retain Ernie Grunfeld: “With Ernie what I found was, could we be on the same wavelength? Would he build team with eight or nine first-round picks? Could he make trades? I thought trading Gilbert was impossible. I thought trading Rashard [Lewis] was impossible.”
On if signing Andray Blatche to that $28 million extension two years ago was a mistake: “Yes — we made a mistake — although the NBA has had close to $250 million of amnestied players to date — sometimes you get a chance to take a mulligan under the new rules and that is what we did. . . . We are all in it together — so we are all to blame. Buck has to stop with me though as owner. I appreciate Andray’s apology to the fans and I hope he is able to turn around his career.”
On the upgrades the team has made this offseason, such as hiring Don Newman from San Antonio: “Part of the rolling the stone up the hill is changing the culture and going from losing to winning. We have to make the investments in scouting and all the little things – coaching, player development. I’m sure you’ll see more announcements, more investments from us in coaching.”
More on the interview: