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Once Ted Leonsis takes over as Wizards owner, he'll face dilemma with Gilbert Arenas

By Mike Wise
Friday, March 26, 2010; D01

Now that Ted Leonsis and the Pollin family have agreed in principle on a purchase price for the sale of Verizon Center and the Washington Wizards, the subject of Leonsis's first major decision will be in court Friday afternoon awaiting sentencing on unlawfully possessing a firearm in the District.

Just what will the Wizards' apparent owner-in-waiting do with Gilbert Arenas, whom prosecutors want to see jailed for at least three months for his gunplay incident with Javaris Crittenton and subsequent cover-up in December?

Trade him? Try to void his contract and begin an exhaustive house-cleaning? Or build around the three-time all-star, who was once responsible for pro hoops' resurgent relevance in Washington and is now to blame for its virtual disappearance?

First, I am betting Leonsis gives Arenas a big hug, because he's that type of person and he has always been fond of Gilbert. Next, I wouldn't be surprised if he spent quality time with Arenas and tried to get to know him better as a human being, rather than relying on caricatures that range from big, childish goof to gun-obsessed menace. Then, he will play video games with Arenas (unless they involve guns, I'd imagine).

Why? Because Leonsis knows that's something that would touch Gilbert's hot button, if you will, and the new owner of the Wizards is all about connecting with the people who work for and with him.

Lastly, Leonsis will give Arenas a copy of his book, "The Business of Happiness," and ask him to read it -- unless Gilbert wants to pay for it, in which case Ted takes Visa and MasterCard.

Then -- and only then -- will he ship Gilbert to the Nets.

No, really.

On Friday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin could sentence Arenas to anything from probation to five years in prison for flouting District gun laws, but depending on the outcome of that decision, Arenas's other judge could have more to do with his future livelihood -- and whether that future is in Washington.

The gut here is that Leonsis takes the same search-and-

discover approach that eventually paid dividends with the Capitals. If Arenas wants to be in Washington -- if he genuinely wants to be part of the rebuilding process that he helped make necessary with his actions -- Leonsis will probably hold on to the veteran guard, provided he believes he still has several years of all-star caliber play left.

But what does Leonsis do with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld? Because the drama around the team has become almost comical lately -- between the Arenas incident in December, a franchise-record losing streak this month and all the petulance around Andray Blatche's recent refusal to play -- it doesn't look good on the surface.

But then, do you know who hired George McPhee, the architect of Leonsis's league-best hockey team?

Abe Pollin. Leonsis not only inherited McPhee from the previous ownership group, he stuck with McPhee through thick and thin.

Leonsis has not been involved or had discussions about Arenas or the Wizards during the negotiating process. He may not be briefed about details surrounding Arenas and the team until the purchase becomes official at the end of May. At the moment, he's still a minority partner.

But he is also an embracer. Anyone who attended a candid and life-affirming panel discussion hosted by Leonsis at Georgetown recently knows this: He genuinely is in the business of happiness.

He doesn't want people working for him who don't want to work for him. And those who enjoy the experience should know they are employed for two reasons: (1) to keep the franchise in the black, if possible; and (2) in doing well for Ted and yourself, you can do more good for others. He calls it the double bottom line, and it involves genuinely charitable hearts, mentors who have time for youngsters who need them -- not merely signing a check.

Anyone who has waited for the Capitals to truly emerge understands how long and hard Leonsis worked to create a culture, system and strategy built to last. He is not going to enter into this new venture -- becoming essentially majority owner of half of Washington's four major professional sports organizations -- thinking he has all the answers.

Having learned some painful lessons on the ice end of his business, he's also not going to make the same mistakes most new NBA owners make. He will operate with the efficiency of a cocksure owner who once believed the one-player-away fib. He is no longer in denial.

The mix of acquired wisdom from previous failure and his knack for remaining contemporary -- besides his own blog, Leonsis follows all the Web sites related to his sport and he recently read Bill Simmons's 700-page hoop tome -- give him an edge on other relatively young owners from the Internet billionaire boys club.

In point of fact, he will probably say something like this at his first news conference:

"Thank you, thank you. I have no magic wand. This is really hard. Really smart people fail daily in sports. That's the business we're in. So now it's time to learn and dig in. But I promise one thing: I will always be transparent."

And when he is asked what he will do with Arenas, don't surprised if he actually says, "I'm going to play video games with him."

And after that, of course, he will ask Gilbert the one question we all need answered: What the hell were you thinking?

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