Aside from a desire to form super-teams and chase rings, a constant theme in each case was that the Wizards were not only spectators, but Washington wasn’t even on the superstars’ GPS systems as a possible landing spot.
In a half-hour news conference on Thursday, Leonsis again stressed his plan to build a championship-caliber team by drafting and developing young talent but also added that he expects the Wizards to eventually attract all-star talent to pair with John Wall.
“I hope to have our team get to being considered a destination where players want to play,” Leonsis said. “Everyone knows that this is a fantastic city. If we can get the place rocking with lots of energy and we have an environment where they’re not just talented players, they’re welcoming, they’re embracing of people that join the team, word gets out and people will want to play here.”
In the meantime, Leonsis is focused on watching one of the league’s youngest teams — and Wall, still the Wizards’ youngest player at 21 — continue to show some growth from a season that resulted in just 23 wins and a third consecutive trip to the lottery.
Washington almost didn’t have the opportunity, because of a five-month-long lockout that threatened to eliminate the entire season, before owners and players reached an agreement that led to a 66-game schedule. Leonsis laughed off reports that depicted him as a hard-line owner, mentioning one account that labeled him a “hawk” following a meeting that he didn’t even attend because he was at a funeral.
“I voted yes for the deal,” Leonsis said. “It’s a partnership with the players, we’re in it together. As I said to the players at lunch, I only know of two relationships that I have 50-50 implications, one is with my wife, the second is with the basketball team and so I’m going to love them like they’re family, but I expect that same amount of love back. We all laughed and know we’re in it together, so I’m happy. I want to move on.”
“My biggest issue in all of the discussions and negotiations was about competitiveness. I want to be able to build a team and keep it together, and I think that’s what the fans, before the fans can fall in love with your team, they need to know that ownership’s committed,” Leonsis said. “I anticipated a new system when I bought the team, that we could keep that team together, and I think we made some progress on that front. . . . I want to be more loyal to the players I know.”
Leonsis said he feels “a real sense of optimism” with his team, which has added veterans Roger Mason Jr. and Ronny Turiaf and will bring back a healthier Rashard Lewis, who was acquired in the Gilbert Arenas deal nearly a year ago. He added that he expects “good things” from Andray Blatche, described JaVale McGee as “erudite” and saved his highest praise for Wall, the foundation of the rebuilding efforts.