Ted Leonsis' Basketball Philosophy Approaching Watershed Moment

As Sean and Mike have already said, Flip Saunders' firing is no panacea. The simple fact that the Wizards' struggles are so easily recognizable as systemic failure necessitates an uncomfortable course of action for Ted Leonsis. The 'Changing out our Coach' edition of Ted's Take discussed putting everything under a microscope, and highlights a subtle tension that could reshape the landscape of the organization.

The comprehensive situation the Wizards find themselves in is fast forcing them to a watershed moment in Leonsis' ownership; making a decision on a current GM without an incontrovertible case pointing to either retention or dismissal. When the Mystics dismissed Linda Hargrove, it was after several seasons of losing with nothing approaching a demonstrable plan and a ride on the coaching carousel no DC fan is a stranger to.

So, when Ted says:

Right now – everything is under a microscope – we know we have to make more investment in additional player development and we shall.

via Ted's Take

He has to know how disturbingly reactionary that sounds in conjunction with the abrupt hiring of Joe Connelly. Was Flip Saunders against such a personnel move? In other words, was this a premeditated move Flip was against?

The club maintains that assistant coach Don Zierden acts as a big-man coach for JaVale and other post players, and they were unaware of Pamela’s specific concerns.

Mike Wise via Washington Post

If the club didn't know (although the thought of Pam McGee quietly enduring any perceived injustice to her son beggars credibility), Flip certainly wasn't against it, which directly implies a snap decision to fix an embarrassingly glaring need in the wake of the Mike Wise interview. Firing Flip Saunders and hiring Joe Connelly in rapid sequence while promising to make player development a priority feels like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken bone.

What happens between now and the end of the coming free agency period is crucial to the future of the franchise. How Ted navigates the paradox of active ownership and effective organizational management will determine the fate of the current rebuild.

Some questions:

  • Why did it take a player's mom complaining to a journalist to get a player development specialist on staff?
  • Ted talked about "keeping it simpler and more efficient as to game plans" and Randy Wittman had similar things to say after the Bobcats victory. If the players were overloaded, is there no forum for Ted to bring pressing concerns on that score to the head coach's attention?
  • While that might seem like a trivial point, an argument could be made that not being aware of the immediate need for a developmental specialist on the team is in violation of no less than five points of the Ten Point Plan. Where does the finger point on this one?

Of course, there's the issue of roster construction as well. Another of Ted's Ten Points:

Draft players that fit the system, not the best player. Draft the best player for the system. Don't deviate or get seduced by agents, media demands, or by just stats or hype. Envision how this player will slide into your system.

As previously stated, Mike and Sean fleshed this point out beautifully. Ernie Grunfeld has executed some nifty moves, getting Caron Butler for Kwame Brown was an absolute heist and securing his services for a reasonable price was big as well. His ability to land a pick and a prospect via trades while acquiring veterans on short-term deals has provided definite results; also a key tenet of the Ten Point Plan.

The concern many Wizards fans share regarding the GM is not one of ability, for Grunfeld is surely an able technician, but one of vision. Three-fifths of the contending core he assembled in DC were spare parts for the Mavericks during their title run. Of course, the curse of les boulez means fans will never know just how good that group really was, though many still feel it was a second round playoff team at best. Quite simply, following the drafting of John Wall, little has been done to put fears of an incoherent team to rest. The roster as put together has exacerbated those fears for many, and so we approach the titular watershed moment in Ted's ownership.

Does he stick with Ernie? The two must have agreed on a definite plan for the rebuild (point one of ten), was institutional tanking to the point of the current dearth of shooters in there? Restructuring and extending Andray Blatche was pulled off with technical prowess, but on threadbare promise. When it comes to trades, excepting the beautiful Lakers maneuver, it is obvious Ernie is used to making a little leverage yield appreciable results. But what about a lot of leverage?

Look to the trade deadline with bated breath. While a big part of Ernie's job performance will be graded on how the current batch develops over the season, he will make a move if one presents itself and one wonders if the scope of that move might be uncharacteristically dramatic if the team fails to achieve some sort of consistency. It will be on the strength of player development and any moves made before the break that Ted will make his decision on EG.

In essence, he will have to decide if he wants to change horses midstream. Before he knows if Ernie can surround John Wall with the talent to take this team to even a below average record, he will have to commit one way or the other. Effective organizational management demands you pick the right people for the job and get out of their way, but when they give you cause for doubt at a critical juncture do you double down or take a more active role than you originally planned? This is the crux of Ted's dilemma.

There's no denying continuity at the GM position would be any owner's first instinct, but a key phrase from the Ten Point Plan demands the ability to be brutally honest about what needs to happen. Keeping Ernie is relatively comfortable, but the safe road rarely leads to glory.

They made the fatal decision: they'd chosen always the clear, safe course that leads ever downward into stagnation.

Frank Herbert's Dune via Philosopher's Notes

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