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Ted Leonsis Answers Bullets Forever's Questions: Part 1 Of 2


Editor's Note: Scroll down for the open thread for today's Olympics action.

Last week, we asked you to come up with questions to ask owner Ted Leonsis via e-mail. You commented, e-mailed and tweeted, and we pulled together 10 questions that encompassed as many of the themes that you presented as we possibly could.

Now, one week later, Leonsis has responded to those questions. We'll be presenting his answers in two parts, with part 2 coming on Wednesday. In Part 1, Leonsis discusses the team's general philosophy in today's NBA, the next step in their rebuilding project, the topic of the luxury tax, the recent trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the decision to retain Ernie Grunfeld and more.

Thanks again to everyone involved with Monumental Sports and Entertainment for helping to bring this project together, and thanks especially to Leonsis for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer all these questions thoughtfully.

Also, be sure to check out Japers' Rink for his answers about the Capitals. In particular, question 1 over there merits your time because it applies to all of Leonsis' sports franchises.

BF COMMUNITY: As you looked to develop your plan for the Wizards, what other franchises, in the NBA or any sport, have you looked to as model for how to run an NBA team? What lessons have you drawn from other teams? Which team do you think your management style and basketball strategy most closely resembles?

TED LEONSIS: Today the NBA is at an interesting point. A franchise may ask itself: Do you build by following a team-concept model and develop around your core drafted players, or do you become a star-driven team and go after multiple big-name free agents? Signing three stars is a difficult task for the Wizards -- and most other NBA teams. Look around the league and you can count on one hand the teams that have been successful and uniquely constructed that way.

We have adopted the draft, develop and retain strategy. We also want to maintain salary-cap flexibility in order to sign key free agents when we believe the time is right. We have been true to that plan the first two years of Monumental Sports & Entertainment's ownership of the team.

Dallas had an obvious star in Dirk Nowitzki, but he was surrounded by a team-first approach when the Mavs won their title. This year we saw Miami's three superstars take home the championship. So both approaches can be successful.
If you would like to compare our strategy with another team, I would hope to say we are building like Oklahoma City. They have a great franchise and serve as a model for the draft-and-develop way to construct a team -- they added vets via trades and retained their own players.

BF COMMUNITY: A week ago, you wrote about how the first stage of "massive change" has been completed. What is the timetable for determining whether the team advanced to the next stage or must "plan to rebuild" again? Will you be willing to go over the luxury tax if that's what it takes to retain core players and sign other free agents?

TED LEONSIS: Correct, I did share my thoughts regarding our roster turnover -- 100 percent in two years. I wouldn't term that as a slow-build approach or an organization that fears change. We also utilized the NBA amnesty provision, which certainly wasn't cheap. Our longest-tenured player now is John Wall. For those who would like to read my blog post, here it is.

But we have had so much change in such a short period of time, I do worry about our team gelling. We are installing new systems. We hired a new assistant coach. Coaches need to get to know one another. Coaches need to get to know players. Players have to get to know their teammates. Players have to get to know their coaches. So communicating is a high priority at this stage.

The next step is to compete for a playoff spot; I don't what to be in the draft lottery again next year. As I have said, if we barely miss the playoffs and find ourselves in the lottery, the world won't end, but I don't want to be picking high in the lottery as a result of a poor season. The team needs to make progress and as the year goes on -- like any season -- we will see what ingredients we may need to add.

I'm not sure why you would mention a "plan to rebuild again." We have had a plan in place for two years and three off-seasons. We set our vision, outlined our strategies and are executing our plan. We aren't looking to deviate from it. I believe we have been transparent and consistent.

Let's be clear about the luxury tax -- the new CBA truly has draconian penalties for those who exceed it in the out years. We have no intentions of doing so; it just doesn't make sense to us.

BF COMMUNITY: A hotly-debated topic in our community recently is the value of cap space in the long term, one you have discussed as well. One league executive recently told ESPN that, given the new CBA, you want to either be "a very good team that manages the gap between the salary cap and the luxury tax," or be the team with salary-cap space to "take advantage of teams that are spending and can't afford to go into the tax." Do the Wizards fit into these paradigms? If so, which one? If they don't fit in, what makes the Wizards' strategy a good alternative?

TED LEONSIS: At this stage of our development, we want to manage the salary cap in a way that will allow us to retain the players we have drafted and developed. We also want to have the financial flexibility to sign free agents when we deem it appropriate. We also want to be opportunistic -- see my Ted's Take blog post about the series of Kirk Hinrich trades that helped us as an another team tried to use its cap space and how we were able to land Okafor and Ariza for an expiring contract.

BF COMMUNITY: A lot of people in our community have asked how the recent trades for Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor fit into the 10-point plan, or if they instead represent a shift in direction. Can you provide some insight to these readers on how the trades fit the 10-point plan, or, by contrast, how they represent a change in philosophy?

TED LEONSIS: There is no change in philosophy; we have eight players who are on their rookie contract. John Wall has the most longevity on our team. We selected Bradley Beal No. 3 overall during the June draft and are building our core in that fashion. We added Nene last year not only for his on-court abilities but also for his leadership qualities and to provide a veteran voice in the locker room. He was the No. 1 free-agent signing two off-seasons ago, but we obtained him via trade. The trade that brought us Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza gave us two players who will help our team immediately as well as provide guidance for our young players.

Look at our depth chart -- we have a very good mix of youth with some veterans sprinkled in. We have come a long way in a short period of time. We have to round out a team -- not everyone can be a rookie, although last season it sure seemed that way.

BF COMMUNITY: In your interview with Mike Wise, you said that you and Ernie Grunfeld are "on the same wavelength." As you might expect, a team's GM is always a hot-button topic of discussion among fans. Can you elaborate a little on the decision to keep Grunfeld for the next two years? How are you evaluating his job performance and the performance of those who work for him?

TED LEONSIS: We get it -- fans want us to win, nothing new there. We want to win, too -- the players, coaches, GM, owner, front-office personnel and arena staff - everyone in the organization. When you don't win, most fans want a fall guy, someone to blame. I guess that is me -- I'm the owner. However, I have been transparent and communicated our plan for a rebuild and warned folks that we would be bad before we were good. The good news though is most fans seem to believe in what we are doing, why we are doing it and are being patient with us.

I evaluate Ernie much like we evaluate other employees. We agree upon a strategy and tactics to execute that strategy. At year's end, there aren't many surprises. We have communicated almost daily throughout the season, so we both know where we stand. I have been pleased with the way Ernie has followed through on our plan to date.

I recently blogged about organization metrics: What Goes Into Our Thinking? That should provide you with a more comprehensive look at some of the metrics we take into consideration.

In Part 2, Leonsis discusses the team's player development infrastructure, advanced stats, the medical and training staffs, the decision to pick Tomas Satoransky and more.