Leonsis, the chief executive of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, whose foundation refurbished the courts, often takes the long view. This broader outlook also extends to his Washington Wizards.
The Wizards, with four players in the rotation who have three or fewer years of NBA experience, have started the season with three wins in 11 games for the worst mark in the Eastern Conference, but Leonsis said that, unlike in previous years, he will not judge the team on its record. Instead, Leonsis has goals that will be measured over time — and all of them may not happen this season.
“We look at the world now in 10-game increments,” Leonsis said. “We’d like to see progress in those increments. Next year, we’ll have John Wall back. We’ll have a little bit of space under the salary cap. I think the NBA is very different this year than it’s been in the past, and I stick with, I think, our turnaround can be quick and fast, but we don’t have any expectations about wins and losses. It’s more about culture, identity and what players will be with us on a long-term basis.”
The contrasting identities of the 2019-20 Wizards — a powerhouse on the offensive end but a pauper on the other — have created somewhat of a dual interpretation for the future. On one hand, Leonsis has optimism the reboot can move swiftly. Yet the team wants to take the measured approach of finding progress throughout the season. The Wizards have already seen some forward momentum.
Led by all-star Bradley Beal and his expanding game of scoring (30.1 points per game) and facilitating (6.9 assists), Washington has opened the season as one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. The Wizards average 118 points and look just as impressive when viewed through the prism of advanced statistics, scoring 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Both numbers rank among the top three teams in the league.
“We’re doing better offensively than I thought we’d be doing,” Leonsis said. “I think most of the experts said, ‘How are you going to score the ball?’ That’s what I heard going into the season. Well, that’s not an issue.”
But along with the surprising offensive results, the Wizards have produced substandard defensive statistics. They are the worst team in the NBA in points allowed (120.1 per game). The Wizards rank 29th of 30 teams in defensive rating (115.2 points per 100 possessions). Still, Leonsis said the team can improve in those areas through coaching.
“We’re doing a little worse than I was expecting defensively because the effort is there,” Leonsis said. “Now it’s just learning to communicate, learning how to break out of the offensive system and go back and play defense, and that’ll come from coaching. Certainly, we made a big enough investment in our coaching and staff, so I expect to see improvement across the board.”
As Leonsis gave his long-term vision for the Wizards, he was standing on one of the new outdoor courts. The MSE Foundation chose the Ferebee Hope Recreation Center, which is less than two miles from the Mystics and Wizards’ facility in Ward 8. Leonsis, in sharing his own story in coming from a “really tough neighborhood” in Brooklyn, said he can relate to young people who often find safe spaces in playgrounds.
“I honestly understand that two-yard difference in walking in and being a part of something, how it’s life-changing,” Leonsis said. “And most people who grew up in that kind of neighborhood and circumstance, they get that right away — that a ball honestly changes your life.”