Ted Leonsis reiterated Thursday that the struggling Wizards have no plans of tanking this season or trading away one of their marquee players, ruling out trades involving John Wall, Bradley Beal or Otto Porter Jr.
“I think we have to stay the course for this season,” Leonsis said during an hour-long “Ask the Owner” segment on WTOP radio. “I was asked point blank, ‘Are you going to tank?,' which was a really interesting question. That’s an offensive question. You can’t go to your organization, to your players, to your coach, and say, ‘Let’s plan to lose.’ . . . We’re not going to sleep on development of the team, but no, we’re not tanking in hopes that we finish last in the league and have a couple percentage points better chance of getting the ping-pong ball for the top pick in the draft.”
With Wall out for the season after undergoing heel surgery, Leonsis, the Monumental Sports and Entertainment CEO, was first asked two weeks ago in London about the possibility of the Wizards turning their attention to next year rather than trying to sneak into the playoffs.
“We will never, ever tank,” Leonsis said then.
The Wizards have gone 3-3 since that trip, and at 22-29 they remain 2½ games out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. Leonsis said Thursday that his “expectations are we are going to make the playoffs and improve on last year,” which ended in a first-round loss to top-seeded Toronto. When asked if Washington is planning to be active before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, Leonsis said the front office will “see what’s out there,” but to not expect a major shake-up with the future in mind.
“I love when [fans] go, ‘Trade Bradley Beal, trade John Wall, trade Otto Porter,’" Leonsis said. “And I go, ‘Okay, for who?!' We’re not trading any of those players.”
Host Bruce Alan told Leonsis that team President Ernie Grunfeld, who was hired in 2003, was “by far the most popular subject” of the questions submitted by listeners ahead of the segment. Is Leonsis happy with Grunfeld’s performance?
“I’m happy if we meet our goals,” he said. “If we don’t meet our goals, we have to sit down and take stock on what do we have to do to improve during the offseason.”
Leonsis said the same applies for third-year Wizards Coach Scott Brooks.
“In pro sports, every job is at risk every year,” Leonsis said. “You really do use an offseason to take stock of what you do, but you do that by talking to the players, by talking to the agents, by talking to people within the organization, people with the league office. It’s not something that you make light of.”
Leonsis has made it clear that his primary goal for the Wizards is reaching the postseason, something more than half of the NBA’s teams accomplish every year and Washington has done in four of the past five seasons.
“We are under .500, but the season’s not done and we have to continue to fight and show our fans that we’re not mailing it, that we think we can make the playoffs,” he said. " . . . Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Except for the Wizards, it seems. Washington hasn’t been to the Eastern Conference finals since 1979.
At the end of the segment, a caller asked Leonsis if the Wizards have any plans to try to free up some salary cap space “in case an elite player becomes available” in free agency or via a trade.
“We think that the draft is a way that we can improve our team, and we might be able to make some trades around the edges before Feb. 7 or at the trade deadline, and then next offseason we would have to look at what is the best road for us to follow,” Leonsis said. “I wouldn’t throw in the towel on this core. . . . I just won’t do that.”
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