CHICAGO — The Washington Wizards’ search for their next front office guide — either a general manager and/or president of basketball operations — has dragged into its sixth week. Since the firing of longtime executive Ernie Grunfeld on April 2, the three known contenders have circled back for second interviews. Meanwhile, a long-rumored candidate, who may or may not actually have interest in the position, has made it clear to close associates that he will not interview.
After dropping to the ninth overall pick in June’s draft, the Wizards have met with players here this week during the NBA draft combine. But the team remains in the awkward in-between phase of moving past one reign while still unsure who will lead the next era.
On Wednesday, Danny Ferry had a second interview for the job with majority team owner Ted Leonsis, according to people familiar with the team’s actions. Ferry, a 52-year-old former NBA player and longtime league executive who grew up in Bowie, remains in the mix as the potential replacement with the most experience after serving as the head of several other organizations. Ferry’s father, Bob, was also the Washington Bullets’ general manager from 1973 to 1990 and guided the franchise to its only NBA championship in 1978.
Following a 13-year playing career, Danny Ferry guided Cleveland’s basketball operations from 2005-10. With LeBron James leading the team on the court, the Cavaliers won at least 45 games every season. In 2007, Cleveland advanced to the NBA Finals but was promptly swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
By 2010, Ferry, who finished his playing career in San Antonio and won a championship in 2003, moved to the Spurs front office as vice president of basketball operations. Ferry last served as a full-time general manager in Atlanta from 2012-15, but spent the final months of the most recent regular season as the interim with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Another Wizards candidate, Troy Weaver, spent Thursday inside the Quest Multisport Complex, the host site of the draft combine, after traveling to Washington for a second meeting on Tuesday with Leonsis, as first reported by The Athletic. Weaver, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s vice president of basketball operations, has spent the past 11 years in one of the NBA’s most successful small-market organizations.
Although the Thunder has operated in the plains of the Midwest — not the most desirable location for free agents — the team has kept talent around its superstars, even following the 2016 free agency departure of Kevin Durant. Weaver, who has a strong reputation for recruiting and maintaining relationships, played at Archbishop Carroll High and was the founder of the AAU program DC Assault, becoming known in basketball circles for his knack in landing talent. He still keeps an offseason home in Upper Marlboro, where his wife and children live.
Tommy Sheppard, the first and only candidate publicly recognized by Leonsis, continues to serve as the team’s interim president. Although Sheppard, 50, has led the Wizards’ day-to-day operations since April 2, he has been the point man for years while serving as vice president under Grunfeld. This week, Sheppard and a contingent of Wizards staffers, including Coach Scott Brooks, have been in Chicago for the combine and pre-draft interviews. The team has interviewed a host of potential lottery picks including Cam Reddish (Duke), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), Coby White (North Carolina) and Jordan Poole (Michigan), among others.
"Ted is going to make the decision and I trust that decision will be best for the program moving forward but as of right now, Tommy’s doing a great job and he’s leading the group,” Brooks said Thursday about the search process. “We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, you know, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all got to get moving. Myself included.”
Tim Connelly, the Denver Nuggets’ president of basketball operations, is also in Chicago this week and has been linked to the Wizards opening. He’s even spoken with Mike Forde, the adviser assisting Leonsis with the franchise reset, according to a person close to the situation. Forde is integral to the hiring process, sitting in on interviews alongside the Wizards owner. Connelly has not met with Leonsis, however, and there is no interview scheduled.
Connelly’s ties to the organization are intricate. He’s from West Baltimore and got his start with the Wizards under Grunfeld. While people close to Connelly said Washington is the only job that could lure the 41-year-old out of Denver — a fact even known by Nuggets team executive Josh Kroenke — those who know Connelly also indicate he does not wish to interview for the position.
The rationale: Connelly is running a team that finished with the second seed in the loaded Western Conference. The Nuggets, in their first postseason appearance since 2013, bowed out of the playoffs after a Game 7 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round. With his team one game away from the conference finals and with a young core in place for at least the next two years, Connelly has a good thing going in Denver.
Connelly may have another reason for potentially passing on a chance at the Wizards job: He is rooting for his old friend Sheppard to get the gig, according to people close to him.
Even so, all that doesn’t necessarily rule out Connelly as a candidate. Several people close to him said the draw of family and working close to his hometown would entice him to listen if the Wizards were to make an offer. On Wednesday night, however, Connelly was not in the mood to listen or talk.
Inside the lobby of the Hilton Downtown Chicago, where team executives held interviews with players, NBA insiders lingered, spreading intel and digging for tidbits. After Denver concluded its interviews, Connelly exited the elevators, darted through the hallway and bee-lined toward the brass revolving doors.
Connelly did not want to mingle and take part in the rumor mill. He missed running into Sheppard and the Wizards’ group by about 20 minutes.