“I’m not afraid of amnestying him and paying him the money.”
Sometime in the next 24 hours, Leonsis, the man who wrote “The Business of Happiness,” ultimately decided to pay Andray Blatche $23 million to not work for him, using the NBA’s amnesty provision to effectively sever all ties to the Gilbert Arenas era in Washington.
“We are all in it together — so we are all to blame,” Leonsis wrote two days later in an e-mail addressing some follow-up questions I had. “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.”
The decision was at once Leonsis’s most expensive mistake and his most impressive commitment toward winning since he became the team’s majority owner in May 2010, for it jettisoned a player who had become the embodiment of fan discontent, essentially dead weight dragging down a reinvigorated roster.
Goodbye ’Dray and all the kids who never grew up; hello, Nene and the adults.
In less than two seasons, the locker room has completely been turned over. Like Leonsis’s Capitals once were, the Wizards are in the third year of a drastic rebuild. The boss says it’s time to win.
“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. . . .
“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. . . . 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.”
Little things are big things to Leonsis, who said he now employs statisticians with PhDs and Stanford educations for analyses to help his clubs. He can get emotional in the moment and says he hasn’t gone all “Moneyball” on everyone. But he never lets his feelings trump empirical reasoning.
That’s why, he says, he kept Ernie Grunfeld as the Wizards’ president, Randy Wittman as coach and George McPhee as the Caps’ general manager for the past 13 years.
When told he had yet to fire a general manager, Leonsis replied: “I haven’t had to yet. You have to look at the arc of the team. It’s not just how the team is performing. It’s how the fan base is performing. The Caps have 98 percent renewals. 98 percent. We raised prices. We sell out every game. Again, counterintuitive, I’ll hear, ‘Well, everyone wants this.’ And I go, ‘Really? So you’re tuned in? Because if everyone wanted that, they wouldn’t renew. They’d say, ‘I don’t believe.’ They wouldn’t come to the games. They wouldn’t pay higher prices. They wouldn’t rock the red. So the decisions have been empirical.