Wizards owner Ted Leonsis made his desires to finally reach the playoffs known on Friday at Verizon Center. But he touched on several other topics as well, such as his enthusiasm about the back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the continued growth of Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin’s decision not to play for the French national team and even how Nene’s summer of rest has allowed him to finally arrive in training camp healthy and energized.
Here are some of the highlights of his lengthy conversation with reporters:
On his biggest regret and what he’s most proud of over the past three years: “From a pride standpoint, we now have a very clear point of view of what the team will be about. This is a very hard working young team that learned last year the importance of defense. It’s gonna play and up tempo game. I think we’ll be a fun team to watch and I do think we’re going to get results. I’m proud the culture of the organization is very professional and that we seem to have upside. There is no chaos in the organization. There is no discussion of what’s the plan, what is the strategy, who are the foundational players. What am I not proud of? There were a couple of players here I thought we could make into core players and we weren’t able to. That’s all of our failings. I always feel like we can take players and make them culturally fit. Some of the players didn’t. I’m sad that we weren’t able to make that work.
On the job Randy Wittman has done: “I admire his fortitude. Randy came in at a very, very difficult time. It was not a good team. It did not have good team optics. It was a selfish team. It had lots of rookies. It has lots of players who were playing for contracts and our coach, we terminated. And we gave [Wittman] the reins and he has been a very, very authentic, honest guy. And I admire that about him. He has never been, in the few meetings that I’ve had with him, he has never been shy about telling me what he thinks and what we need, shortcomings and strengths.
I think the players respect him because he has been unabashed in his truthiness and I admire that. And he has done a really good job. He got this team to buy into to playing hard, tough defense. That is one of the hardest things to do in professional sports. You don’t make ‘SportsCenter’ by playing really, really strong defense or throwing really, really strong picks, or boxing out. That’s not what is celebrated today and he made the team understand that if they wanted to make the next step, those are traits that this team has to be really tough to play against…And I’m very grateful to Randy for the change in culture and the style that we’re playing a style that will get results. And I also think it’s a style that the fans want.
On John Wall’s passion about making the playoffs: “That’s why we extended him. He works really, really hard. And he understands making commercials, having sneaker deals, making a lot of money, that’s a terrific side benefit of being a professional basketball player and being a great talent like he is. He’s our leader. He’s the player with the ball in his hand all the time and if the team doesn’t do well. You can trace it to, he hasn’t matured yet. He hasn’t realized his gifts and he understands that. He naturally is about team success.
That’s one of the things that you look for in a player. He doesn’t pad his stats. He would rather make a great pass and have another player score it, than he has to score. It’s a pass first point guard and that makes the other players want to play, they’ll run harder, because they know they’ll get the ball. They’ll rebound and fill a lane because they know they’ll get the ball and John’s at his point now. He’s got his contract. Now he needs to get the team to have success and then the personal accolades will come. He’ll be an all-star if this team is a playoff team. He’ll be in consideration for first-team all-star or whatever accolades can be given, if the team has success. So, I’m happy that he’s internalized that there is an intertwining of team success with how he’s viewed in the league. And you can’t teach that. It’s an innate natural instinct that he has and it’s part of the reason that we think we’ll be successful.”
On the growth of the team after another difficult season: There is a lot of character on the team and a lot of integrity of the team. They want to be successful together. The camaraderie and the chemistry I’ve seen has been very, very strong. I think they went through adversity together. It didn’t kill them; it made them stronger. I think they know they have to work hard and be highly coachable, but there expectations are they’re ready as organization and as a team to take the next step. So you can sense that confidence in them right now. We had a little step backwards with the injuries. I didn’t see the wincing as we did last year. I think the team kind of shrugged it off and said ‘OK, we have enough talent in the room. No excuses. We can still be a really, really good team and be a playoff team, get ready for the season.’ It’s very, very different, the level of maturity and emotional organization of the players is much stronger and higher than it’s been in the past. But you would expect that. They aren’t rookies anymore. The core is maturing. The sense is that they know what to expect, what it takes to be an NBA player and they’re ready together to take the next step.
On Vegas predicting the Wizards will win 42 games this season: “I’ve been around enough now to know no one knows nothing. This team hasn’t won 50 games. That’s obviously the long-term hope and plan that we would be a really good team. Fifty wins is kind of a demarcation of a team that is a legitimate contender.
We haven’t won 40 games in a long, long time. Now we’ve had huge improvements. You have to remember when I bought the team, we won 19 games. And so, 42 games, that would be terrific. But we shouldn’t make any forecast, because that’s a lot of wins.”
On whether the signing of Al Harrington signals the change in culture he desired to attract free agents: “I do think this is going to become a destination for named free agents. I also think when you have young emerging players who want to be here, they express their gratitude to the fans, they love the community, they love the city, they want to win for the fans, that’s a really, really good sign.
When you get John signed and getting that as a checkmark — and someone like Al, who is like a coach on the floor. He’s been around. He knows good organization, good situations. He too wanted to be here. Likes the city, likes the front office, likes the players — and players talk. They know right away whether it would be a good situation for them to be in and will they be happy here.
I view Al wanting to be here and the role he’s already playing — he’s very, very vocal. He can tell the younger players when a situation is good and when it’s not. He’s basically blessed that this is an organization on the rise, but there are still a lot of expectations to be met. I think we continue to take steps forward, but until we qualify for the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs and bring in the next generation of named free agents, it’s all talk. That’s where we are right now. It’s time to deliver.”