Back on June 10, 2010, most Wizards season ticket holders, myself included were quite pleased that Ted Leonsis bought out the controlling stakes of the Washington Wizards and with it the Verizon Center. I was so happy that Ted bought the team that I actually spent my lunch hour at work going to Verizon Center that day to hear him give a public press conference regarding the purchase of the Wizards. The entire press conference is available on video from the Wizards' website, and it can be seen here (52 minute long video).
What my takeaways were then
Aside from Prada's notes here back from that time and also from SB Nation DC, the main takeaway that I got from Ted that day was that he was a very analytical person. The biggest place where I got that impression was where he noted that only seven teams (at the time) won an NBA championship in the last 20 years before he bought the Wizards. He also noted that most NBA teams were built from the draft, at least in the sense where at least some of those team's top stars were home grown draft picks. In addition, the much loved (at the time) Ten Point Plan and his "101 Signs of Visible Change" at Verizon Center that came soon after were all things that further showed how deliberate he was with planning his team building strategy. Ted also made remarks about improving the environment at Verizon Center, like making sure ketchup dispensers were filled and that women's bathroom latches were properly in place.
You would think that if and when things fell apart at the time back in 2010, Ted would make a change when necessary. But at least on the basketball front, while the personnel changed quite a bit since then, the results are the same as the Wizards have failed to win even 25 games a season, and this year, it's likely that they will fail to do so once again.
How I feel now about the Wizards' basketball operations after over two more years of bad basketball
While I still admire that Ted has a more of a "business-like" mentality than Mr. Pollin whose emotional investment in the Wizards often held us back (like trading the #5 draft pick in 2009 for Mike Miller and Randy Foye or keeping Wes Unseld as GM for a little too long), he seems to think that everything going wrong with his teams may just be corrected with time as the principles of his Ten Point Plan "win out" as the team hypothetically goes on an upward trajectory though there always may be temporary setbacks.
Bullet Nation in Exile made a great note in his piece that Ted's belief in the Ten Point Plan may be a shackle on the Wizards from accelerating their development. While BNIE mentioned that the Wizards may have done the now infamous "Okariza" trade in order to stay out of a potential cap jail and "protect the powder" for free agency when the Wizards would presumably be in a better situation on the wins and losses front which is Point 9 of the plan, I take issue with Point 10 of the plan:
10. Never settle--never rest--keep on improving. Around the edges to the plan, have monthly, quarterly and annual check ups. Refresh the plan when needed but for the right reasons-- "how are we doing against our metrics of success and where are we on our path to a championship." Never listen to bloggers, media, so called experts--to thine own self be true. Enjoy the ride.
Are we seeing Ted not settling for a team with putrid records year after year? For now, all we have seen was the firing of Flip Saunders as head coach, the trading away of Nick Young and JaVale McGee, and last but not least, the amnestying of Andray Blatche. However, while these moves may have improved the professional culture of the Wizards, the results aren't changing, let alone the man who is heading basketball operations of the team, since 2003.
With the exception of his line advising never to listen to bloggers and the media (not like my voice really matters that much anyway), the quote "our metrics of success" leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We all believe that Ted made this year's metric of success as a 2012-2013 season where the Wizards would at the very least be a team that would be in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference up until the latter half of the season. After all, didn't Ted believe that winning the NBA Draft Lottery would be unacceptable, or that being a bottom feeder this team would be a real disappointment.
Sure after an NBA worst start to the 2012-2013 season where we're 4-25 right now, I believe he backtracked a little bit since then, but I hope that the plan wasn't refreshed to the point where this start is completely written off just because John Wall is still in the process of coming back from knee injury, and Nene is still getting himself back into mid-season form from his plantar fasciitis that was aggravated during the London Olympics for Team Brazil.
In short with my thoughts on basketball operations right now, while I do believe that the Ten Point Plan is certainly a great ideal plan, there are so many wrenches that can be thrown along the way where improving this team and "refreshing the plan" from point 10 could possibly mean having to contradict an ideal of one of the other nine points, like making a huge push for James Harden even if such a move put us in potential cap jail for just this year.
Customer Service for Season Ticket Holders: Good on the surface, but....
I remember from a chalk talk or another event in the past year or two when Ted spoke to Monumental Sports teams season ticket holders. He said that while he can't directly control every result on the basketball court (Wizards and Mystics) or the hockey rink (Capitals), he believes that he can control customer service.
At least for me as a ticket holder of this team since the 2007-2008 NBA season, the Wizards Guest Services team has done a good job from a customer service aspect. If I need a giveaway I missed, or if by any chance I needed them to drop by a gift to someone else I invite to a game with me, they deliver. For the other season ticket holders who may be reading this post, I hope they are also doing that for you.
However, while Guest Services may be doing a good job with keeping season ticket holders' day to day needs in good order, what Ted doesn't seem to grasp completely at best, or fails to realize at worst is that the basketball product is tied with customer service. Often when a team is winning consistently or on an upward trajectory, the whole in-game experience seems to be better, from the fans cheering the Wizards to a win, to the courteousness of the ushers, to the taste of the hot dogs. Right now, when times are down, and especially as of late, the in-game experience seems to be worse, when the arena is often sparsely filled, and the food may very well cost more than the cost of a ticket on many secondary market sites, like StubHub and ticketsnow.com!
To top this all off, Ted even mentioned in his press conference back on that day in June 2010 that he wants the Wizards to lead the NBA in full season ticket sales. Sure, maybe there has been a lot of growth, but that may be just because there weren't many season ticket holders beforehand, and also because of some lower prices to begin with relative to the rest of the NBA. I have heard from some newer season ticket holders that they are treating this almost like an investment.
For those of you who have bought season tickets and kept renewing them since the 2011-2012 NBA season, we were offered a three year price freeze on our season tickets through the 2013-2014 season. This is a pretty significant time, not only because that's when the price freeze ends, but it's also the year where four players on the current roster: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Booker, and Kevin Seraphin, are all up for their sophomore contracts and would be restricted free agents.
I doubt we'd keep all four of these guys, but I think Wall will be re-signed because he is our biggest investment as of now and figures to be in our short term plans in almost all circumstances, but perhaps another one of these players will also be re-signed to a larger deal that is worth more than the mid level exception.
Regardless, I have a feeling that Ted would like to jack up the season ticket prices big time on us given that Wizards tickets are already among the lowest priced in the league, and also because he has consistently raised Caps ticket rates in each of the last few years in the Alex Ovechkin era, even though the Caps never reached at least the Eastern Conference Finals in any single year. I have an ominous feeling that Monumental Sports will raise the prices on us regardless of what happens over the next two seasons, and if Monumental raises the price on us while the team appears to be meddling in its "road to respectability" in the NBA, I have to question whether I'd even renew.
Ted started his tenure as Wizards owner with a perception that he couldn't do any wrong. However, the basketball product hasn't improved one bit in the John Wall era despite the Ten Point Plan or Shackle, depending on how you perceive it. In addition, while Ted believes that lower than average NBA ticket prices and focusing on customer service may be what keeps season ticket holders buying in and renewing, the most important thing at the end of the day is to improve his NBA team.
However, customer service and the on court basketball product are not separate entities; they are intertwined together. Failing to make some major basketball-related improvements in the short term for this franchise will only further test my patience as a season ticket holder, and at worst, it may just convince me not to renew for a product that doesn't look to be competitive in the NBA.
Sorry for such a long winded complaint ladies and gents.