Ted Leonsis wouldn’t reverse it.
This is a big step in the right direction for the Wizards, who on Wednesday unofficially hired Michael Winger from the Clippers to run the DC show.
Who knows if Winger, with extensive experience on the contract negotiation/analysis side of teams in LA, Oklahoma City and Cleveland, can turn things around here? He is not, say people who have worked with him and know him, someone who goes out with the team and likes to shake hands when they come into the dressing room after victories. He might not even are at games. He is not a scout bird dog. He’ll have to hire a general manager to do all that. He was a team advisor for both the Cavaliers and Thunder. He’s not a basketball player, in the traditional sense.
But none of that matters. Or, at least, it doesn’t really matter right now.
The bottom line is that we finally know that winning and losing is important to Leonsis, the governor of the wizards. We know it’s not okay for the Wizards to keep scraping the bottom of the NBA loop, meandering through seasons, not knowing in the long run how they intended to escape the league’s dregs.
If Winger doesn’t formally replace Tommy Sheppard in the job title, at least he’ll be given the go-ahead to do whatever it takes, including – be still, my beating heart – a total rebuild, meaning build by design and not incremental, piece by piece. acts. Don’t say “tank” around Leonsis; it causes him to break out in hives. But if “rebuild” is more palatable in the genteel world of Universe Mastering, so be it. Winger can do whatever he wants with the existing roster, and no NBA executive worth his iPhone thinks this roster is good enough to compete at a high level.
It doesn’t mean the Wizards will trade Bradley Beal tomorrow. Or that they definitely won’t re-sign Kyle Kuzma or Kristaps Porziņģis this summer.
But it does mean there’s a significant roster shakeup ahead. As it should be.
Michael Winger will have the authority to reshape the Washington Wizards, sources say
Yes, teams that make it far in the postseason are usually teams with continuity, the best players of which have played together for four or five seasons. But Washington’s best players, year in and year out, haven’t been nearly good enough to scare anyone. So, get better best players.
Besides, it’s half too smart to say that Sheppard hadn’t had any plans for the past four years. That’s not fair. The plan to gradually build around Beal did not work. But that’s not the same as not having a plan. And that plan had Leonsis’ blessing from 12 months ago. (It’s also not cool that neither Trajan Langdon, the GM of the Pelicans, who was the other known candidate to formally interview in Washington, nor Langdon’s rep heard from the Wizards Wednesday, and had to read a tweet informing them that Washington went in a different direction.)
Winger, the former general manager in LA, is given a new title in Washington – President of Monumental Basketball – and carte blanche to reshape the entire operation from top to bottom. According to a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, but who was not authorized to speak publicly because Winger’s appointment is not yet official, Leonsis Winger will ask for similar five-year team development plans for the Wizards that the Capitals have used under team president Dick Patrick. Midstream adjustment of the plan is encouraged, if necessary – and, most importantly, it is funded without complaint by Leonsis, Monumental’s managing partner.
Leonsis, the source said, wanted someone who would take big swings in a big market. It’s no coincidence that Winger has been in Los Angeles for the last few years. Leonsis was looking for someone who knew how to recruit top talent for a major city, who had relationships with the game’s top agents and agencies such as CAA, Excel, and Klutch. And he admitted that maybe there was a need for a fresh look at his basketball team, for someone from the outside to tell him what he didn’t know and what he needed to prioritize. Winger has an assurance that Leonsis will go into luxury taxation in the future if necessary.
Winger handled contract negotiations for the Clippers and also made sure, as a league source said Wednesday, everyone in the organization felt “safe” in their workspace, from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to low-ranking staffers. He was a great man who saw how all the disparate parts of what are now billion-dollar companies can and should work together, from player development to HR, security to medical staff. Nor did Winger hesitate to express his views forcefully within the Clippers’ front office.
A league source said Wednesday that Winger was one of the few voices cautious about continuing with the trade that brought George from Oklahoma City to LA in 2019 — the deal that was central to Leonard agreeing to act as free agency to join the Clippers — because he thought the Clippers were giving up too many future draft picks to OKC.
The Clippers made the deal with the Thunder anyway, but it was an indication that Winger was providing unvarnished truth, as he saw it, if he thought it was best for the team. It increased the information level of the group. And the Clippers, with Winger teaming up with team president Lawrence Frank, have built a warring team around Leonard and George – a team derailed by recurring injuries to its two superstars.
“He’s all about the organization,” another league source said of Winger Wednesday. “As for the group, he makes it about the players.”
Winger, philosophically at least, should fit in with Wes Unseld, Jr., who also believes in leaning on the numbers to shape game plans and rotations. But the third-year coach, like everyone else in the organization, will be kept informed in the future. A disruptor is coming to town, who will try to lift this ship, weighed down by history and low expectations and decades of settlement, to heights it hasn’t reached in two generations. That can mean that people are uncomfortable, worried about their future. Well, that’s what happens in large organizations. You feel comfortable when you feel uncomfortable. And you grow. Or you leave.
The Wizards could finally get back into the game.
(Photo by Ted Leonsis: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)