“I’m hoping by the end of the offseason to make an announcement that says this is the place that we’re going to build it and how long it will take,” Leonsis said Monday at Verizon Center after watching the Mystics and Minnesota Lynx take part in an experimental analytics scrimmage.
In April, the Post reported that Leonsis, Howard University officials and a pair of private developers were in talks to build a publicly funded facility “as part of a mixed-use development on the school’s campus north of U Street in Northwest D.C.” But on Monday, Leonsis explained he is still looking into potential sites in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and hasn’t fielded any offers, only inquiries.
As teams around the NBA invests tens of millions of dollars in practice facilities, Leonsis, as he did in a November blog post, emphasized how important it was for the Wizards to upgrade their headquarters to compete with other franchises. The Wizards and Mystics currently practice at 17-year-old Verizon Center, where there is just one cramped practice court without seating and a shared weight room.
Leonsis envisions a start-of-the-art facility comparable to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington that serves as his Washington Capitals’ base. The 137,000-square-foot Kettler facility cost $42.8 million and was built atop a parking lot. It is easily accessible on the Metro and its amenities include two indoor rinks, offices, eight locker rooms, medical facilities, a weight room, lounge areas and a theater-style classroom.
The basketball facility, Leonsis said, would be built 18 to 24 months after the site is determined and would house both the Wizards and Mystics. It could then potentially host a D-League team in the future.
“First priority for us is to get a Wizards practice facility,” Leonsis said. “So I’m still working that one hard and then if we can find a good place and build that, that would be a good place for the D-League team to play. So that’s the steps we’re taking.”
Leonsis explained he wants the facility to have seating for the public so a D-League team could play its games at the building like the Los Angeles Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, which plays at the Lakers’ facility – the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif. Leonsis said sharing the same building would allow the D-League affiliate to work more directly with the Wizards’ staff, but he also indicated the D-League team could play in a smaller nearby market.
The Wizards currently are partnered with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the only D-League club without an exclusive affiliation with an NBA team. The Wizards were one of 13 teams partnered with the Mad Ants last season. The Charlotte Hornets were the latest NBA franchise to announce it will launch its own D-League affiliate last month. The team is slated to begin play during the 2016-17 in a location to be determined.
“I don’t see it as a business,” Leonsis said of a D-League franchise. “I see it more as a developmental tool.”