With the majority of the Washington Wizards’ offseason transactions complete, owner Ted Leonsis said he believes the moves have created perhaps the most balanced roster in franchise history.
On Monday, the founder of Monumental Sports & Entertainment reviewed the summer in which the Wizards signed free agents Dwight Howard and Jeff Green and swung a trade for Austin Rivers. Last season, the team regressed amid injuries to John Wall and struggled to play consistently. Washington finished 43-39, earning six fewer wins than it had the previous year, and advanced to the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards lost in the first round to the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in six games.
In the owner’s view, the offseason renovations should make Washington a force in the East.
“If you look at this roster for the Wizards, I think it’s as deep or the deepest team that we’ve ever had,” Leonsis said. “I think that the East will be very competitive, but I don’t think we should be overlooked. I think we’re going to have a really good team this year.”
Leonsis, speaking after his Monumental Sports & Entertainment group announced a practice-facility naming-rights partnership with MedStar, said the Wizards addressed specific areas of concern.
The Howard signing filled the hole in the middle after the team shipped center Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers for Rivers. During his 14-year career, Howard has averaged 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game, and he comes to Washington with the practical price tag of $5.3 million. While Howard, 32, should be an improvement on the older Gortat, he still brings baggage. In consecutive summers, Howard has been dumped by his two previous teams, and over time he has taken blows to his reputation.
“I think that’s a media-generated issue. I don’t think it’s a basketball-related issue,” Leonsis said about Howard. “He could’ve signed in many, many places, and really it all comes down to the salary cap. Dwight is paid like a max player. We’re paying him the mid-level exception. He will be a great addition to the team, he wants to be here, and his skill set is what we needed: someone who could run, play defense and rebound. And he’s at the time of his career right now where he’s been paid a lot of money; he’s still getting paid max money [with] the buyout and what we’re paying him. … So, at that price, I think he was the greatest addition we could add at that position.”
Although the Wizards lost a bench scorer in Mike Scott, who had the third-highest three-point shooting percentage on the team last year, Leonsis has confidence in veteran reserves Green and Rivers. When asked to evaluate the summer, Leonsis, who also owns the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, compared the Wizards to his more successful team.
“I thought both front offices had ‘A’ grades for their offseason. I think that when a season ends, you sit down and say, ‘This is what we want to accomplish,’ and for the Wizards, it was we need to have more balance and more depth and be prepared for injuries,” Leonsis said. “We had injuries last year and we want to be able to have interchangeable parts and players that are adapted to the new NBA.
“From center position to wing to the backcourt,” Leonsis continued. “So we were able to bring in a lot of bench scoring, and I think we can go 10 to 11 players deep.”