In rare public comments about the Washington Wizards’ extended search for a new president of basketball operations, managing partner Ted Leonsis expressed satisfaction with the work done by the team’s current administration and indicated he will not come to a resolution about the hire before next month.
On Tuesday, Leonsis released a statement to The Washington Post in which he shared the plan to take his time in forming the franchise’s new leadership team. Leonsis also denied reports that the Wizards pursued Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, who constructed the roster that last week won the NBA Finals.
Tommy Sheppard, who has led the Wizards’ basketball operations on an interim basis for the past 11 weeks, will continue in the role through Thursday’s NBA draft and the start of free agency, which arrives June 30.
“I am very happy with the work and preparation Tommy Sheppard, Coach [Scott] Brooks and our staff have done and I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said in a statement. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”
Leonsis directly addressed the multiple published reports that he was planning to offer Ujiri a package that included an annual salary of nearly $10 million as well as an ownership stake in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the company that operates the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics as well as a pair of esports teams and several other sports and business properties.
“We have not commented on the many rumors surrounding potential candidates during this process, but I wanted to make an exception in this case out of respect to the Raptors organization as they celebrate their well-deserved championship,” Leonsis said in the statement. “Any reports that we have interest in Masai Ujiri as a candidate are simply not true, and we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process.”
Following his decision to fire longtime executive Ernie Grunfeld on April 2, Leonsis announced that he would take three weeks to meet with employees to examine the team’s basketball operations. Then, before the end of April, Leonsis and consultant Mike Forde began interviews with Sheppard, Danny Ferry, Gersson Rosas and Troy Weaver. Following those interviews, Rosas was hired to run the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sheppard, Brooks and members of the front office represented the Wizards at the draft combine in Chicago in early May.
On May 17, Denver Nuggets executive Tim Connelly, a Baltimore native who got his professional start with the Wizards, visited Leonsis at his home in Potomac. Two days later, the Wizards officially extended a contract offer to make Connelly the next team president, according to several people familiar with the timeline, but Connelly decided to stay in Denver.
Since then, the Wizards have continued with business as usual. Sheppard, who has traveled across the country as well as to Spain to scout prospects, has acted as the decision-maker during the pre-draft process. The Wizards have the ninth pick Thursday night.
In the Wizards’ final pre-draft workout Monday, the team hosted a pair of projected first-rounders: point guard Coby White and forward Nassir Little. Leonsis watched the proceedingsand later greeted the players.
Throughout, he appeared relaxed, even grabbing a basketball and dribbling while casually chatting with the team’s G League general manager, Pops Mensah-Bonsu. As the Wizards approach the most critical stretch of the offseason, Leonsis appears similarly at ease with his approach to the future of the franchise.
“I intend to create a leadership team when it feels exactly right and is in alignment with our findings and our final developed specifications,” Leonsis said in the statement. “As I have said, we will likely use ‘many hands make light work’ as a mantra as we seek to establish a new organizational construct that is in line with what the future of the NBA will look like: creating a shared platform on health sciences, data analytics, venue management, skills training, etc., for all of our basketball franchises.”