WASHINGTON — With the Washington Wizards underperforming and lacking a clear path back to national relevance, Ted Leonsis has decided to hire LA Clippers general manager Michael Winger, a lawyer by training experienced in dealing with superstar players, high-powered cops and the nuances of the collective labor agreement and the salary cap.
Leonsis plans to give Winger ample leeway to expand and revamp the Wizards’ infrastructure — and possibly launch a full roster rebuild — said league sources who were given anonymity because Winger’s hiring, though agreed in principle , has not yet been made official.
Leonsis will appoint Winger as President of Monumental Basketball, a new position that will see Winger oversee not only the G League’s Wizards and Capital City Go-Go, but also the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Winger, 43, takes on a Wizards team that has missed the playoffs in four of the past five years, plans to pay shooting guard Bradley Beal up to $208 million over the next four seasons and faces an offseason in which forward Kyle Kuzma plans to become an unrestricted free agent and center Kristaps Porziņģis can become an unrestricted free agent.
According to a league source, Winger will have full authority over assembling (and perhaps deconstructing) the Wizards roster and front offices within Monumental Basketball.
Winger submits a five-year plan to Leonsis for approval and then updates the plan each year. Most importantly, Leonsis wouldn’t be opposed to a rebuild if that’s the route Winger wants to go down, a league source said.
In the coming days, Winger faces a more pressing issue than deciding whether to keep Kuzma and Porziņģis – and probably even more pressing than prioritizing which NBA Draft candidates he invites to Washington for team practices. Winger will hire someone to become the new head of Wizards Basketball, a League source said. It’s unclear if the title of that role will be “general manager,” but that person will be the person Coach Wes Unseld Jr. gave to. reports.
The Wizards’ hierarchy will be similar to the hierarchy within one of Leonsis’ other professional teams, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, which will have a team president (Dick Patrick) who oversees the team broadly and a senior vice president/ general manager (Brian MacLellan). .
Winger worked as No. 2 within the Clippers basketball operations division and reported to Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations.
Frank and Winger complemented each other’s skills. Frank, who was previously the head coach of the New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons, brought X’s and O’s high level knowledge and experience in evaluating players. Winger’s expertise, on the other hand, focuses more on developing the short- and long-term strategy for building a team, conducting contract and trade negotiations, and navigating NBA salary cap rules.
As his No. 2 person with the Wizards, Winger will likely hire someone with a relatively traditional basketball background. According to a league source, that rental is likely to take place within the next two weeks.
In 2019, Leonsis announced a major reorganization within Monumental Basketball, with Daniel Medina, the head of athlete care and performance, reporting to former Monumental Basketball executive Sashi Brown, who left the organization in early 2022 to become president of the Baltimore Ravens to become, or to Leonsis.
Now Medina will report to Winger, not Leonsis. Monumental Basketball’s analytics and security department will also report to Winger.
Winger had been with the Clippers since 2017. Before that, he worked for the Oklahoma City Thunder under Sam Presti and the Cleveland Cavaliers under Danny Ferry.
Leonsis led the search after firing Tommy Sheppard on April 19. John Thompson III, the Wizards’ vice president of player development and engagement, served as the primary point of contact for agents representing front office executives. Bob Schneider, Leonsis’ chief of staff at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, and Monica Dixon, Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s chief of administration and president of external affairs, also contributed to the search.
The number of people Leonsis formally interviewed is unclear. But if The athletic reported on May 16, interviewed Leonsis Trajan Langdon, New Orleans Pelicans general manager. ESPN was the first outlet to report that the Wizards will be hiring Winger.
In Washington, Beal is the player with the most All-Star appearances, signing a five-year, $251 million contract in 2022 to stay with the Wizards.
That contract includes a no-trade clause that gives Beal tremendous control over his future. Beal would have to approve the destination for each transaction.
Beal, who turns 30 next month, has not indicated he wants to trade. But Beal’s attitude could change as Winger starts rebuilding.
The Wizards have been stagnant in recent years after the franchise’s cornerstone, John Wall, suffered a series of injuries. While the franchise made the playoffs during the 2020-21 season during Russell Westbrook’s lone season with the team, the consensus among rival executives seems to be that the Wizards are nowhere near good enough to compete, but not bad enough to to compete for an early draft pick. .
Solving that will be central to Winger’s work.
— The athletic‘s Law Murray contributed to this report.
(Top photo by Ted Leonsis and Bradley Beal: G Fiume/Getty Images)