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Is Ted Leonsis Really the Wizards' Savior?

In fairness, I posted this originally (sans a few edits) about 6 months ago on my other blog, the DC Landing Strip, but with Uncle Ted starting to make his presence felt, this topic has been running through my mind and I think it is time to examine his potential impact and play a little devil's advocate.

With Abe Pollin's passing comes a new era in DC basketball, but I'm not so sure the new era will be much different from the past. What does Ted Leonsis's takeover mean for the Wizards? Most people I have spoken with think that because the Caps have become a model franchise under Ted's guidance, that the Wizards are bound for better days.

(Oops, that's the Dakota Wizards)

As I've written before, Uncle Ted is beloved mostly because the Caps are winning and partly because he connects with 'the people' through his blog. If the Caps were a middling team, would we still love Ted? I say not nearly as much. Sure, he is likable (unlike Dan Snyder), and may really listen to fans by making changes such as providing fresher hot dog buns, but he needs to win. The important question here is thus whether Ted has an ability to build a winner in any sport, not just hockey. The logical leap seems easy, but I don't think that all the Caps' success can be credited to Uncle Ted and I don't think we should all start saving for years of playoff tickets. I have the full reasoning laid out after the jump.

My first question is how good would the Caps be without Ovechkin ? If the draft lottery had not gone our way, and we ended up with Cam Barker or Andrew Ladd instead of Ovie, then where would the Caps be? This team is very good without Ovie, but not a title contender. One could make the case that the extra money and higher draft picks could/would be used to partly replace Ovie's production, but there is no way around the fact that Ted partly lucked into the best hockey player in the world.

Even if you look beyond Ovie, it is hard to say that Ted has single-handedly made the Caps so great. Sure he made the great hire of George McPhee (editor's note: as Ted mentioned today, he did not hire McPhee, Abe Pollin did), but it is McPhee and not Leonsis running the player personnel, and maybe Ted got a little lucky with that hire. Ted has also been reasonable with contracts, but that is easy to do when you have a successful team anchored by the best player in the world. What I am trying to say, in a nutshell, is that even though Leonsis turned the Caps into a model franchise flowing with talent, there is no certainty that he could replicate that success with another NHL franchise, let alone an NBA team. From his introductory press conference, Leonsis appears to understand that this is a different animal, but does not seem to understand the NBA.

The biggest concern I have is that basketball is different from any of the 3 other major sports in terms of how you build a championship team. In the NFL, MLB, and NHL, you can build a winner through the draft, by not overpaying, keeping a deep and balanced team, developing a strong minor league system (where applicable), and fitting the players to the system in the MLB and NHL. The Leonsis 10 point rebuilding plan may not apply as basketball teams and games can be dominated by 1 player, and the dominant teams always include one of the top-5 players in the league. The recent exceptions have been the Pistons and Celtics, but look at the Jordan-Bulls, D-Wade-Heat, Kobe-Lakers, Duncan-Spurs, and you get the idea. In the NFL, NHL, and MLB, the best teams have talent in depth, but in the NBA, it is less about depth and more about your top player. Patience and rebuilding is good, but you need more luck in the NBA than in other leagues. Imagine how different the NBA landscape would be if the Wizards hadn't had the 1st pick in Kwame Brown's year, and instead had Duncan, Shaq, or Lebron? Having a deep squad does not matter much if you lack that one superstar, which is often obtained by luck.

Fortunately for Leonsis, he struck gold again in the lottery. In the NBA you build by finding a super-duper-star any way possible, which is usually lucking out by winning lottery, or hitting a grand slam with an upside draft pick. Once you have the 1st building block, pieces 2-4 are much easier, and the final peripheral parts are the easiest. The hard part is that first piece, and the Wizards may have just gotten theirs.The downside and likely scenario, however, is that the Wizards are about to draft a guy who is an all-star and will command a max contract, but is not quite on that Kobe/Lebron/Howard/Wade/Duncan level. There is still a lot of work to be done if Wall is merely a top-10 player, and the Wizards will have to likely get lucky at least one more time to get another nucleus piece. In the NHL, MLB, and NFL, strength in depth in enough, in the NBA, it is much more important to have your best players be particularly great.

The one characteristic of Ted that should translate to the NBA is that he is willing to lose money and go through bad times (rebuild) to build a winner. There are surprisingly few owners willing to take this risk despite their wealth, and this strategy is always the way to go when a team needs an overhaul; the Caps are a great example in the NHL, and the Tampa Bay Rays are the best example in baseball. In the case of the Wizards, this will translate to us using the BOYD strategy to pick up another draft pick. Ted could certainly go the cheap route and just fill out the roster, something Donald Sterling would do, but Leonsis looks set to spend out of his pocket to build the Wizards. This could help in using a rebuilding like that of the Celtics, by stockpiling talent to trade for another nucleus piece.

Another interesting point in the Leonsis plan is to build around youth, and keep the veteran contracts short and cheap. This is music to my ears, as it pretty much describes the opposite of Gilbert Arenas. The plan also advocates stripping the team down to the foundation, and thus foretells of Leonsis and co. doing everything possible to get rid of Gil.

This is another great opportunity for Ted to rebuild, especially with John Wall now on board, but don't expect the Wizards to be just like the Caps. A great owner is not enough, particularly in the NBA, where a willing owner and skilled GM will need more luck than in other sports. As much as I love Uncle Ted, I am not ready to call him the savior of DC basketball. He was gifted John Wall and certainly has the traits of a great NBA owner, but fresher hot dog buns will not be enough, Leonsis will likely need even more luck than he had with the Caps to bring an NBA championship to DC and become the true savior of the Wizards.

(Images courtesy of and