Recapping Ted Leonsis' press conference

More to come later, but here's a quick summary.  I also talked to Flip and Ernie and will give you that stuff...

UPDATE: So yeah, Ted Leonsis held a press conference today.  Lots of people were there, including every relevant media member as well as several important sports and other figures in the city.  John Thompson and John Thompson III were there.  Jim Larranaga was there.  Bruce Boudreau was there.  Many others were too.  And, of course, Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld were there to take it all in.

The basics of today's press conference are in that link above.  To summarize:

-Ted wants to build a "generational" team, with a core of young, good talent.

-Ted clearly chose his words carefully with regard to Gilbert Arenas, but feels that it's very important that Gilbert Arenas, in his words, be "re-embraced" as a person and a player.

-Ted does not plan on making a big splash in free agency at this time, saying that "the money isn't burning a hole in my pocket."  He added that he's been through big free agent splashes before, and they haven't worked.  He also said he wouldn't chase a free agent that the team wouldn't be able to get just to make headlines.

-Ted said his impression is that it'll be easier to build around young talent in the NBA than the NHL because there are fewer roster spots.  Because of that, he also said he believes the Wizards will be rebuilt quicker than the Caps.

-Ted's not changing the name, saying he's amazed that, of all the things they need to do, it seems to him that many fans care about a name change the most.  He did say that, at some point, he would look into changing the team uniforms back to "more traditional colors," noting that "it's no secret I like red."

-My favorite quote of the day: "I will pay the appropriate amount homage to the past, but we have to change."

More below the jump:

Building through the draft

Leonsis, as expected, talked about the importance of building a team through the draft.  He said that he looked at past champions in the NBA and found that nearly all of them drafted their foundational pieces.

"When you look at the last 20 years in the NBA, there have been seven teams that have won the NBA championship. Six of those seven teams drafted the number one or number two pick; their foundational people," he said. 

He said that the Celtics are the exception.  That's not quite correct -- the Lakers signed Shaquille O'Neal, and the Pistons didn't have a No. 1 or No. 2 pick unless you count Darko -- but the point still stands.  He also said that he found that only six of the last 20 champions had an average team age over 30.  

But of course, in practice, this quest can be tricky.  Not every team that goes young eventually wins in this league, and that's going to be a challenge for Leonsis.  He said he believes his general philosophy actually applies better to the NBA than the NHL because there are fewer players on the roster and because most teams play a seven- or eight-man rotation, but he also said that "whenever you think something like that, the opposite usually proves the truth, and if it was so easy, more teams would win NBA championships."

So I asked Flip Saunders, a man who has been involved in the NBA for a long time, what he thinks of the importance of building through young talent and how to actually make it work in practice. 

"You get young players that are your foundation, and you get veteran players that can teach those young players how to be professional in this league.  You know the young players will make mistakes, and the veteran players won't, so you just have to have a good mix along those lines."

But of course, as Saunders said, it's not just about young players, it's about good players.

"There's a difference, though.  We have the ability to not just get young players.  We have the ability to get a young talented player.  A lot of people get young players, but they might not have one of the top two or three talents in the draft.  It's different when you have a young player that can be a game-changer."

That's the thing to remember here.  The Wizards are in a spot that most teams can't be in.  Every great "young" team has to have that one young transcendant player - otherwise, they struggle.  I asked Saunders why some teams maybe don't emphasize young talent in practice as they do in theory.

"Things just have to fall into place.  If you look at the teams that have [built around young talent], Oklahoma City, they were the worst teams for two straight years in the league.  Chicago, when they brought in their influx of all their young talent a couple years ago, they were the worst team in the league for five years after Michael [Jordan] left.  When you're a bad team, you have a chance to have good young players, but you have to be lucky to get the game-changing players.  Usually when you lose your way in the draft, it's going to take 6-7 years to get out."

On Gilbert Arenas

Leonsis clearly chose his words carefully when asked about Arenas.  He paused for a couple seconds before talking about how he's talked with Arenas regularly and feels he needs to be re-embraced.  He said that Arenas is aware of what he must do -- get in shape first and foremost, atone in the community, be a good teammate, etc. -- and that he "kind of likes" the guy.  

But we figured Leonsis would be a healer.  What about Ernie Grunfeld?  Grunfeld said he has spoken to Arenas several times as well, and that he's been in the building for the last 2-3 weeks.  

"What happened in the past, nobody's happy about," Grunfeld said.  "But we're trying to put that behind us and move forward."  

He was asked about John Mitchell's report that the relationship between Arenas and management was bad, to say the least.  Grunfeld said that "I don't know where those reports came from.  If you put a name to it, we can talk about it."  When Mitchell's name was referenced, Grunfeld said "I believe it was rumors.  I don't believe there were any names on it.  You should ask Gilbert, and you should ask me about it.  We're moving forward on everything."

Flip Saunders said that Arenas looks good and that he will work with Tim Grover again this summer, which is good.  Grunfeld, Leonsis and Saunders all referred to Arenas "getting into shape," for what it's worth.

Free Agency

Leonsis was pretty clear about his desire to not enter the free agency frenzy.  While he said that "we have to articulate our plan," he said "I've experienced empty-calorie, make-news moves before, and they didn't have happy endings."  Clearly, he's learned from the Jaromir Jagr saga 10 years earlier.  

"Maybe 10 years ago, I would have been firing up the jets, but I think it's harder to [build through free agency], so the answer is I don't know, we have to build our plan together, but I'm not interested in just making a news splash.  We're more experienced owners right now.  I don't want to go after any free agent that we don't think we can get, just to make the news.  I don't need the press.  We can generate our own press."

He did say that if they could find a free agent that wanted to be here and was worth pursuing, they'd "be competitive," but that was a pretty strong message to me.  Therefore, I thought it was only right to ask Ernie Grunfeld himself about this.  Obviously, Grunfeld was pretty evasive, saying, "we don't know yet," but he did say this.  

"Just because you have money doesn't mean you should overspend on someone that won't be apart of your long-term future.  If the right opportunity comes along, I think you want to look at it, but I've said all along that we might save our powder for down the road, to see what the new CBA brings, to see if there's a hard cap or a soft cap.  We don't really know all the rules going forward, so just because you have the cap room doesn't mean you should go out and spend it if it's not for the right player.

Grunfeld also said this summer reminds him of the summer of 1996, when Shaquille O'Neal was a free agent and Grunfeld's Knicks signed Allan Houston to a mammoth contract and traded for Larry Johnson.  "I think it's pretty comparable when you have Shaq and Alonzo [Mourning] as a free agent."

Name changes - don't expect them

Ah yes, the dreaded "name-change" discussion.  I was kind of surprised to hear Leonsis shrug this aside right off the bat.  Here's his direct quote:

"I'm shocked that, with all that we have to do, that's been like the number one question, e-mail, message board conversation.  I intend to listen very, very carefully, but we have so much more to do, so there will be no name change, and even if we wanted to change the name, you couldn't do that for years."

 I too tend to side on the "it's just a name" side of this conversation, but the truth is, a lot of people are still scarred from when the Pollins held an open vote, then appeared to tinker with the results.  Abe's cause was noble, but it was a bit distressing for many to see that the new name didn't have any sort of connection to the city.  I figured Ted would say something like "I'm surprised people care about this," but to say he's "shocked" was a bit jarring.

But there was some good news: Leonsis will look into a color change somewhere down the line.  He said he remembers being a Bullets fan when he was younger and thought the old colors were "handsome."  He noted that the changing of the Capitals' jerseys to red was "galvanizing," and so, "at some point," they will go back to "more traditional colors."

Random stuff

  • I asked Leonsis to talk more about the interplay of scouting and advanced stats, since he's a fan of both.  He went on for a while, but did say that he's learned that there are "not a lot of surprises" in both the NBA and the NHL. "You read 100 draft forecasts, and pretty much, the first 8-10 guys are the same."  More generally, he said you needed both, as well as the ability to understand character.  "You don't know the heart of a player until he's playing with you."
  • Strangely enough, Leonsis said he felt it was very important for the Wizards to improve their European scouting.  "I would like to see us do a better job with investment in European scouting.  I think that teams have, in the past, had an impact from European players, and that has to come with investment."  I wasn't aware we had a problem with this, but I guess Oleksiy Pecherov disagrees.  
  • Flip Saunders once again hinted that the Wizards are going to try to get another draft pick, if they can.  They also haven't called Evan Turner in for a workout, though Saunders did say that sometimes they can't bring a player in because of scheduling conflicts or other things.  
  • Leonsis emphasized that he wants to lead all leagues in season ticket sales and that he wants to improve the in-game experience.  I asked him how to do this, and he said the main goal he's aiming for is to bring all the smart people on his staff together better so that they're more aware of all the other factors that go into a good in-game experience.
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