NBA Free Agency season officially started at midnight last night, and Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis was up bright and early to talk to The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan about the team's plan this offseason. And right off the bat, it seems like Leonsis and Wiz fans are in lock step on something: they both want to build "off the momentum we generated last season."
How does the owner want to do that? Bring back Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza. Leonsis said "Our main targets are retaining our players," and that's certainly evident by the fact that Randy Wittman and VP Ed Tapscott are in Los Angeles to court Ariza and assistant GM Tommy Sheppard is in Poland to meet with Gortat, both of whom are reportedly being pursued by several other teams.
The interview wasn't too long, but it did reveal a bit about the team's strategy going forward this summer. Here are some excerpts:
On Gortat's and Ariza's value:
All you have to do is go online and look at what comparable big men have been paid, and Gortat is 30-years-old, and kind of in his prime, and it's his first unrestricted free agency and he's gonna make a lot of money.
Gortat had good numbers because playing with players like John Wall, where you kind of perfect a pick-and-roll kind of game, and having Nene up front really helps too, because he's such a smart player.
Our goal is to keep our team together. We obviously have Plan B's if we can't keep those players. But right now we have two free agents that are in demand around the league. Trevor Ariza's a really, really important player, too. He's a very, very good defensive player. He shot very well last year. Now, he perhaps had a really, really good year because John Wall really developed, and Bradley Beal really developed.
On how values are determined around the league:
The thing about free agency is, it only takes one other team to make an offer, right? And that's what drives up players' costs, but it's the reality that you have to deal with; you can't complain, you can't whine.
I love when I read, "Here's what I would do: I would offer him x years and x dollars. That seems fair." And you go, "Well, yes, but he has an agent and he has expectations and there's comparables, and you end up negotiating and you try to get the best deal that you can," but markets kind of decide, and these players will get paid.
On building a winner in the short term, and building a contender in the long term:
If we can keep the team together and then add to it, I think we can be a perennial playoff team. And then we can add to it as the cap goes up. And in the out years, and I'm still hopeful that we can bring in a transformative-named free agent, but they want to play with teams that are really good. They want to be the piece that kind of gets you over the top.
So our key goal right now is to keep what we have, and incrementally add to it, and then in the out years, be able to compete and bring someone in who goes, "Yea, this is a great situation. It's sold out, it's a great city, it's got great players, and I can be someone who gets them over the top."
On John Wall and Bradley Beal, and their bloodlust for winning:
I just think we have to continue to stay with a process that has a good mix of young players as well as vets. Another thing, John Wall and Bradley Beal want to win now. They've got that taste. They would prefer, the coaches would prefer that we use a slot to get an experienced player. There's going to be free agent players, even rookie free agent players that we can look at right now to add to the team. But our goal right now is to try and get better, and we're going to get better because Kevin Seraphin and our young players continue to play. But it's mostly because John Wall and Bradley Beal. If we can keep our free agents in the mix, i think we're going to have a good team for a long, long time.
Leonsis also spoke about the surprising decision on draft night to sell the 46th pick after having already traded their other two 2014 picks earlier in the season. At the time, fans and commentators alike were confused, because it seemed like the Wizards took money over a chance on one of the deepest drafts in over a decade. Leonsis says there was much more to the thinking than that:
At a high level, it's confusing, especially when you've made the investment in watching the draft. The Indiana Pacers, by the way, did exactly the same thing we did.
We tried to move up and get back a first round pick, and we were prepared to use picks and money. But we couldn't get that done. We tried to move up in the 2nd round. There was a couple of players that we thought could help us. And we were willing to do that, and we couldn't do it. There was a player drafted literally right in front of us that we thought we would be a great addition to the team, and we would stash him in Europe and help him to develop, but he got picked.
And you had a unique situation where the Lakers and the Knicks were desperate for assets. They're in rebuild mode. We had kinda rebuilt around young players; so did Indiana. And both the Knicks and the Lakers paid a lot of money for that asset, and we don't think we'll have a roster spot.
So yeah, we took that deal, but it wasn't because we weren't interested in moving up or getting a player. I can relate and understand why fans go "jeez i spent all this time watching the draft and you ended up selling it."
But it wasn't just for the money.
It was because strategically we wanted a first round pick, and we were willing to write a check and trade players or trade picks, but we couldn't get things done.
And for good measure, here is Ted attacking his critics head on, as he often does:
I never understood the grandstanding [towards free agents]...Some of the bloggers say "get in the mix, just throw your name out there." OK, so you generate these positive pixels, and it creates these faux expectations.
But I do find it ironic Larry Bird did the exact same thing [selling a draft pick] in Indiana and it was called a "savvy move" and we did something similar and some of the bloggers and some of the people on twitter had a total meltdown.
You can listen to the whole interview, which includes some Capitals free agency talk and some chatter about D.C.'s bid for the Olympics, here.
UPDATE: Ted just went on ESPN980 at 3 p.m. He mostly reiterated what he said above, but here's a few nuggets from the interview. To listen to the interview online, click here.
On Grantland's report of Washington losing $13 million this season:
Leonsis on report of Wiz losing money last season: "I was really disappointed that a league document somehow got into the hands of the media— Umair Khan (@UKhanNBA) July 1, 2014
He confirmed the report and went on to say how this was a long rebuild and that they understood that it would take some time to build a perennial winner. He's obviously disappointed in losing money, but knows he can do the same things with the Wiz as he did with the Caps years ago.
On the young guys and selling the second-round pick:
We do have confidence that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr can contribute in a much bigger way. Otto is going to play a lot of minutes, Kevin Seraphin will play a lot of minutes, but you gotta have vets around them. And that's why we want Ariza and Gortat back.