Have you ever been to a restaurant where it takes forever for someone to take your order? A place where you have to wait and wait and wait for your server to come over just to get a menu? At some point you have to decide if you want to keep waiting or if you take your business elsewhere. In much the same way, Ted Leonsis will have to make the same decision about the Wizards and if he’s willing to continue to wait for this team to become a true contender as he pays for the team with the seventh-highest payroll in the NBA.
Based on his recent actions, it appears Leonsis is willing to wait it out and see if the team can fix their own mistakes, even though everything on the court screams that they’re a marginal playoff team at best. They’ve lost five of their last six, including embarrassing losses to the Cavaliers and Hawks, who hold two of the four worst records in the league.
This month, the Wizards have completed two very puzzling trades that do very little to change the trajectory of the team in the short or long term. With the Wizards’ uneven play throughout the early season, one would think any move made would be to either try to help this team move above mediocrity or blow it up. Instead, the team has made moves around the fringes, trading Jason Smith and second round pick for Sam Dekker’s expiring contract, and swapping out Kelly Oubre for an older, more affordable Trevor Ariza. These are not the moves a team makes when they’re looking to blow it up or take the next step. These are the moves of a team looking to reduce their luxury tax bill and ensure they still bring in playoff revenue.
There’s no question the team’s fortunes are a direct result of the front office’s mismanagement over the past 15 years. By now you have probably already heard the stat countless times about how every executive who has been with their current team as long as Ernie Grunfeld has won at least one championship, except him. You’ve heard about how he hasn’t had a 50-win season in Washington or even had a team make it to the Conference Finals. Whether it’s the 2011 NBA draft failure, signing Ian Mahinmi to an inexplicable $64 million deal, hiring three different coaches, or all the other miscues, one has to ask when is enough, enough?
I think we get the point, but does Ted Leonsis get it? He said before the season started the team had no excuses and expected them to win 50 games this season. Washington needs to go 38-13 (a 61-win pace) the rest of the season to reach that goal.
Would missing the playoffs force change? It would be hard for the Wizards to justify staying on their current course if they miss the playoffs entirely, but the odds are in Washington’s favor. Despite their 12-19 record, they currently have a 64 percent chance of making the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference, according to FiveThirtyEight. The Ariza trade makes it clear the Wizards are content with doing what they can to maintain their current status as an also-ran in playoffs, even though it’s hardly a sign of success in a league where more teams make the playoffs (16) than don’t (14).
What we are witnessing is unprecedented in professional sports. Teams simply do not show this much loyalty to anybody for so little in return. Executives don’t get to make this many mistakes and hire so many coaches without taking the responsibility for what has gone wrong. What is the end game here?