Our team's new owner (and one of DC's most popular men) wrote a brief but very informative letter explaining his approach to rebuilding. Rather than comment extensively, I'm just going to repost it below the jump and say this: I buy in.
Not loathe to do anything — An Open Note to Wizards Fans
I wanted to take a moment to communicate directly to our Wizards fan base on a few matters. I have been reading a lot lately about being “loathe” to bring in free agents into our organization. I truly dislike broad generalized statements by third parties, so I thought I would be direct and unfiltered to everyone here on my blog about what I am thinking and what we shall do.
There are many tools at the disposal of a franchise to build a great team. By great, I mean a team that gels, plays with an identity, adheres to a system, makes the playoffs on a consistent basis, sells out the building, and then wins a championship… or two…or three.
The team has identifiable stars, but plays as a unit. It is deep, talented, and it is filled with character and heart — and plays with passion for its fan base. It isn’t all about the “I.” It is about the “We.” It knows the “Secret.” It gets it.
Our franchise has a lot of work to do on all of these fronts. We haven’t qualified for the playoffs in the last two years. We had an aging, expensive lineup that was under achieving, and we are at the bottom third of the league in ticket sales. We now have only six players under contract, and I firmly believe there will be a new system in place in terms of a collectively bargained agreement between the league and the players in our future. We don’t know what that system will look like, but I know it will be different than it is today.
The tools available for the most part to rebuild a great team are the draft, trades, free agency, rookie free agency, waiver wire pickups, developmental league players, and finding players in Europe through the draft and free agency.
Also, developing a system that works for the core of your players and teaching it, and then fitting in new players that play key roles in the system, creates an advantage. As does the creation of a high-quality metric-based analysis and stats department so that a true picture of the productivity of the players can be presented; and a true development of players via competitive scouting, mentoring, physical therapy, and ongoing coaching can be achieved.
There is no single way to build a great team. It is hard work. It takes commitment, infrastructure, culture change, investment, patience, belief, leadership, and a “we are in it together” mind set. There is no magic wand. There is no new one player to be added that gets it all done.
I am loathe to the notion that if we added one player we would be a great team that could win championships. That is a notion that I reject out of analysis of past great teams, and out of personal experience. You must put in the hard work on all of the above; you must use all of the tools at your disposal; you must measure and improve season after season; you must make the investments; you must be in the process daily; and you must be in the moment and believe in what you believe.
For the most part, the draft is the primary way to build a core of great young talent that builds the foundation of a great team. Look at LA, at San Antonio, at Houston, at Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Miami. Seven teams have won championships in the last 20 years. Each has foundational players that were brought into the team via the draft. That drafted player has been the identity of the team, the leader of the team, and for the most part, the team’s best player.
The draft is important because a young, great player gets identified with the team; the fans fall in love with the player over a long period of time; the coach gets to help build a system around that player’s basic skill set; that player helps to build the identity of the team. And younger players are less expensive than max free agents, so they allow you to build more options and have more depth. And I believe when the time comes, your own young players should be courted, respected, treated, and wooed like they are free agents. I prefer to reward people that we know and trust more than players we don’t know and have contributed to another system and franchise. That is why we were able to sign at the Capitals Alex Ovechkin, the MVP of the league, to a 13 year extension; Mike Green, a first team all star, to a long term deal; and Nick Backstrom, a great player, to a 10 year contract extension. We treated our own players like they were star free agents. We drafted them all. We kept them all here to play for our great fans and to our sold out building.
The Washington Capitals have built a core of great young players primarily through the draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins have too, as have the Chicago Blackhawks — the last two Stanley Cup winners. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were both drafted in the same draft. Paul Pierce was drafted — Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Wade, Isiah, Akeem the Dream, Magic, Larry Bird…The list goes on and on.
Trades are vital as well. Having lots of young players and draft picks also help you to rebuild your team. Astute trades, for missing pieces, using your depth and picks and some young assets, can accelerate your rebuild and help you to build a great team.
Rookie free agency and second round picks sometimes really can help. European players can help and “D” league players can help.
And then there is free agency.
Small, medium, and large.
So my point is, I am loathe to the notion of adding one free agent to solve all of the ailments of a franchise.
We have seen time and time again that there is huge risk in signing a max free agent without having true infrastructure, system, and a core already built.
We have seen in the NBA and the NHL that young players drafted and developed correctly, are the best way to build a great team. A team that wins championships.
We have the first pick in the draft, and we have many additional draft picks. I want to attempt to add to this number of picks, or to move up in the draft — that would be consistent with our strategy.
But I promise to use all of the tools available to us to build a great team.
I promise to be committed to the long term health and well being of our franchise.
I am open minded on all opportunities, but I won’t ever be delusional about an unknown magic wand to wave to improve the team, to win a championship. We will do our best to use data, best practices, and plain hard work.
The magic will be in how we blend and mash up all of the above in our own identifiable way to create something great, something built to last a team that holds a mirror up to the communities we serve, and than can compete and win championships. It isn’t an easy thing to do. Witness that such a few franchises have won championships during the last two decades.
But we can start our process of rebuilding and our journey together this week. The draft will be a crucial pivot for our franchise. We have many young players to pick and develop. It all starts now. I am truly excited for this coming draft. I am truly excited about talking to you all, and telling you what I believe in an unfiltered way. Thank you.
Oh the times, they are a-changin'.