Kudos to Mike Wise of the Washington Post for scoring a 45-minute interview with owner Ted Leonsis about the state of his two franchises. Most of the time was spent discussing the Wizards, and during the interview, Leonsis touched on a number of very important topics, including the recent decision to amnesty Andray Blatche and the Emeka Okafor/Trevor Ariza trade.
The entire thing is worth a read. Some highlights.
- Leonsis notes that it's hard to get talent to come to your team in free agency unless you're a destination. He's repeated this mantra before, but recent events have certainly supported his point. Look at Courtney Lee, for example.
- He said that Nick Young and JaVale McGee were "playing for stats" last year because they were coming up on the final year of their contracts. I think this problem could have been avoided with some more foresight, but luckily for the Wizards, McGee at least turned into Nene.
- The Wizards have made some big changes with their analytics. Some of this stuff I knew about; some is new. Leonsis mentions SportVU -- from what I understand, the Wizards got this recently and continue to figure out its best use. Based on the example he used, it sounds like they're getting there with that.
- He confirmed that Randy Wittman was kept around based on recommendations from Nene, John Wall and Kevin Seraphin. As for Ernie Grunfeld, Leonsis said he found he was on the same "wavelength." Was hoping that Leonsis would unpack that a bit more than he did.
- He said Blatche was let go in large part based on recommendations from the coach (no surprise), the GM (not a huge surprise) and several players (more of a surprise).
Some quick thoughts below the jump.
What these answers indicate to me is that, at the very least, Leonsis and the basketball operations staff has thought long and hard about what they plan on doing. There appears to be a pretty clear blueprint here: rebuild, get good, then hope being a destination allows you to take the next step. I think that, in general, that's a pretty sound plan, and it's been pretty in line with how I hoped this rebuild will work out.
Now, granted, I've had (and will continue to have) plenty of disagreements over the past couple years with some of the application of that plan. I thought (and continue to think) that more emphasis needed/needs to be placed on finding shooters that can space the floor to give Wall more space to operate, even if it meant potentially making some somewhat risky multi-year investments into role players before there was/is certainty about Wall's game. I'm a bit skeptical that Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, while useful players, are particularly good on-court fits with the current roster, so I was not wild about that trade. I generally think it can be valuable to use young players as assets to be traded before the Young/McGee problem comes into play, even if it means taking the plunge and worrying that a good young player could blossom elsewhere.
But those are specific situations. There are several key tenets of the rebuilding plan that I agree with wholeheartedly. Namely:
- The investment in more player development and coaching. The Wizards have hired a number of very good people recently to help their players, some of whom you know (Don Newman) and some of whom you know less. In addition to that, they continue to consult with a number of specialists that do very good work. I know, for example, that they have used Dave Hopla to help Wall with his jump shot this summer. I never really saw this with the team in the past. The value of these kinds of investments cannot be measured, and many teams are reluctant to make them.
- The use of advanced analytics: The Wizards were one of 10 teams to use SportVU, the missle-tracking service Leonsis noted in the interview, and the stuff you can do with that is mind-blowing. I got the understanding in Las Vegas that more teams will be using it this year. While the Wizards certainly weren't the first -- my understanding is they actually got it in the middle of last season -- they were among the first. The specific rebounding nugget that Leonsis noted is a perfect example of how that kind of technology can cause you to look at a prospect differently.
- The dangers of free agency: Leonsis is right: it's very hard to attract top-level talent in free agency. Look at Minnesota. They spent so much time chasing Nicolas Batum, who really isn't that great, and they got nothing to show for it, even though Batum wanted to play there! My specific solution would have been to buy out Lewis and hoard that cap space and some young players as assets to acquire a player already under contract (like Cleveland appears to be doing), but the theory is the same.
- The general theory of listening to players: This can be overapplied, but the players are ultimately the ones that must perform. If they have a recommendation for leadership, hear their perspective. Find the right fit, not the biggest name. (Note: in many ways, this can also be applied to the selection of Bradley Beal).
This isn't to say that those specific disagreements aren't significant. In many ways, they are. Frankly, I worry that too much of this team will depend on Wall's supposed ability to mask weaknesses, when I think it would be wiser to assume Wall, at his age, needs a surrounding cast more tailor made to his strengths to aid his development. I also think this year is pivotal, and the Eastern Conference playoff picture is going to be tough to crack.
But while I'm sure I've thought about these things more than the average NBA fan, Leonsis and everyone on down has clearly thought about these things exponentially more than myself. The plan seems logical enough to work, even if I don't agree with everything about the way it's being applied.