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Ted Leonsis explains why Wizards Coach Randy Wittman deserved an extension

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Before Randy Wittman got his extension, Ted Leonsis said the Wizards coach “deserves more time.” After the extension was announced, Leonsis gave a canned quote about leadership and preparation.

But the owner offered his most extensive remarks about the coach’s extension in an interview with his own Monumental Network.

“It’s really the players who made the big decision, not only in the exit interviews over the last couple of years and this offseason but the way they responded to him on the court,” Leonsis said. “They respect their coach. They listen and like playing for him, and it shows. And the biggest way that you can translate that is the way they’ve rallied around, culturally, to play defense. No one likes playing defense. Everyone likes shooting the ball and running the floor.”

Leonsis said that this was the first time in his ownership tenure that the Wizards “had a healthy team that bought into the system.”

“And you saw, we were one of the most improved teams in the NBA,” the owner said. “We made the playoffs, we beat the Bulls, and so that’s why he deserves an extension. He delivered everything that he told us he would do, and we’re very grateful to him.”

“That one for all and all for one mentality came from a dramatic change in culture,” Leonsis later said. “We always had a lot of talent in this organization, but sometimes they wouldn’t play together as a team, as a cohesive unit. And this year, especially during the playoffs, I thought that we played basketball the right way. That’s why our fans started to fall in love with the team. It wasn’t just that they were winning; it was that they were playing basketball the right way.”

Asked about the offseason, Leonsis said that “surprisingly, or not surprisingly, I’m really not that involved.” But he mentioned several times that he hopes to keep the 2014 team mostly intact.

“The first priority, I think, is for the most part try to bring the team back that finished the year so strong,” the owner said. “There was really great chemistry in the team. We were hard to play against, we have good big men, we have good wing shooters, we have a really good backcourt. So that’s the first goal, is keep as much of that together as we can. And then as we go further into the offseason, it’s how can we improve the team. Are there trades to make, are there free agent signings that we should be looking at?

“And we also want to look at this not as a one- or a two-year horizon,” he went on. “We obviously have to look at other offseasons, future offseasons, because there’s other players that become free agents at that time. So the front office is developing a strategic plan. … And while I’ll sign off on it, it’s the front office and the coaching staff that will come with what the strategy and what the tactics are.”

Leonsis said he did some of the exit interviews with players, since he doesn’t get to speak with them much during the season, “nor should I.”

(“The hierarchy shouldn’t be that the players think that they have access to you as an owner,” he said. “It’s the coach and the GM and then ownership.”)

He said his biggest hope for the future is that his roster remains healthy, and he talked about how many wins he’s hoping for in the future.

“I think we can have a better record than last year,” Leonsis said. “Fifty wins is an audacious goal. Really, really good teams get to 50 wins. And I’m hopeful that we can set a bar — that we become one of those really really good teams and a perennial playoff team, that we continue to improve the team. And hopefully we can bring a ring back to the fans in Washington, D.C.”