By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2010; D02
One day after assuming control of the Washington Wizards, majority owner Ted Leonsis reiterated his commitment to having Gilbert Arenas on the team next season, and to giving General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Flip Saunders a chance to turn around the struggling franchise.
Leonsis met with Arenas at the owner's McLean home last month and has been in contact with the point guard via e-mail, exchanging notes with him as recently as Thursday.
"We had a great meeting," Leonsis told a group of Washington Post reporters and editors Friday. "The conversation was about, 'Here's a line, and you can't cross this line.' The scrutiny around you has quadrupled. You need to internalize that. There are some things you can't joke about anymore."
Leonsis also dismissed recent reports that the Wizards are actively seeking to trade Arenas, whom the NBA suspended in January for the remainder of the 2009-10 season after he brought guns into the Verizon Center locker room.
"We're not actively trading him," Leonsis said. "But I would ask you to put yourself in another general manager's shoes. He was injured for two years and suspended for a year and he's a max [contract] player. If you were another team's general manager, would you be trading for Gilbert Arenas right now?"
Leonsis also suggested that buying out Arenas, who is owed $80 million over the next four years, is not financially feasible. "You mean just write a $100 million check for him to go away?" Leonsis said with a laugh.
As for the future of Grunfeld and Saunders, Leonsis said he's met with both in recent weeks and reiterated that they will be with the team next season.
The new owner compared Grunfeld to Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee, whom he also inherited from the late Abe Pollin's regime. Leonsis hinted that the Wizards will be run much like the Capitals: ownership will set the strategy, and the general manager will be given the space to execute that strategy.
"I'm not telling Ernie who to pick with the first [overall draft] pick, but told him, if you want to trade the pick, [then] you're coming to talk to me about it," Leonsis said. "Because that would be against the strategy that we laid out.
"I believe that Ernie is a very talented person and I believe that Flip is a very talented person. I've seen people be really successful executing one plan and unsuccessful doing another plan. So I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt."
Leonsis also said the issue most fans are e-mailing him about is changing the team's name back to the Bullets and returning to the franchise's red, white and blue uniforms. He said he'll continue to listen and contemplate his options, but added that he is not close to taking action.
"To change a name or a logo, [the NBA] really likes three years and will accept two," Leonsis said. "It's not just [one team]. Every team in the league has stuff on their big screen, banners, signs with the Wizards. Every store, every outlet. It ripples through everything."