The Leonsis line: context of a winless start, a mile of heart and a ticking clock

Rafael Suanes-US PRESSWIRE

Any owner of a DC area sports team has to stomach more than their fair share of 'moral victories'. How long do Randy Wittman's Wizards have before Ted Leonsis demands something more from the menu?

Let's cherry-pick so hard, and come back to it later:

  • The Wizards are playing without their two best offensive players who also happen to be their two best players, period. While the Wizards have started winless, they've lost by a cumulative 34 points and repeatedly achieved fourth quarter leads over teams with superior talent.
  • The Wizards are currently rocking seven first round draft picks from the last three years. Some have overlapping skill sets (/shrug), many don't have a true position (/ugh) and most can't or shouldn't trust their shot (/sigh).
  • Half the roster is new to the Wizards and not a one of the players have had a training camp under Randy Wittman. Only John Wall, Trevor Booker and Cartier Martin have been to training camp as a Wizard. Wittman has instituted the motion offense and is also integrating new defensive principles in his first season as head coach.
  • All of the above is tough, and likely played a role in prompting owner Ted Leonsis to back off from an initial statement that another lottery-bound finish would be unacceptable all the way down to a bottom-three finish. Zero wins projects to winless, and while fans, media, players, coaches and management all expect things to improve, the Wizards are on pace for a new coach and possibly a new GM. That's just where the pace points to, for now.

So, the clock is ticking. The longer it takes for the Wizards to find some semblance of fourth-quarter cohesion, the more 'playoffs, maybe' will look like 'bottom-three finish'. Wittman will likely be on the chopping block, but it's difficult to imagine Ernie Grunfeld wouldn't be right next to him. While Leonsis expects this team to compete to the limits of its abilities, he knows how some of those limitations have been imposed via personnel movement. The #okariza acquisition stands out, but Ted has been effusive singing Emeka Okafor's praises. It may be Randy Wittman's is the only job in danger. A GM may only be one bad decision away from getting fired ... but if the owner is buying in hard to that/those decision(s)?

All that bridges the employment gap for the newly recast head coach is a mile of heart. The team is running at a serious talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. Characterize that deficit however you like, I defer to the list above. The Wizards have to make up the talent gap by doing every little thing right, by giving 120 percent every night. That's obviously not sustainable, even if the rotations were set in stone and the players were familiar with each other. Leonsis has created an environment that demands young players realize their upside or get chewed up. Where the coach has to finally get a team to gel under his command and form a winning identity. Where the GM had to magic as many draft picks as possible while picking effective players outside of the high lottery and bringing in as many starting quality veterans as possible when it was time to stop the bleeding in the W-L column while managing the cap future. Take all of that and remember the Leonsis line from October: no bottom-three finish, or else.

"We would all find it unacceptable if we finished with the second- or third-worst record in the NBA this year," Leonsis said. "That would be a failure, and the failure would start with me."

That's coming from a owner who understands that in organizational management, you pick the right people for the job and get out of the way. If he talks about his failure, it can only follow that he is saying he picked the wrong people for the job. I'm sure I don't need to translate any farther than that.

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