I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong way to fill a job opening, but the process of Ted Leonsis to find a new team president for the Wizards is befuddling — especially because he told reporters he was firing then-president Ernie Grunfeld with several weeks left in the regular season to “get a head start” on the offseason. That head start is in the rear-view mirror, and the Wizards are now in danger of falling behind.
In my professional life, I have some experience with hiring. A search I ran a few years back took nearly two months, mostly because the person I thought would be best for the job didn’t have the right credentials (a college degree) and the people I reported to wouldn’t sign off. I first interviewed her in the third week of the search.
Over those eight weeks, I interviewed 29 candidates, and thought maybe seven would be a good fit. In the end, I annoyed my boss enough about my top choice he told me I could hire her, but with these parting words: “If she messes up, it’s on you.” (Not the point, but she didn’t mess up — she became a superstar, got poached by another arm of the organization, and has been promoted three times.)
The Wizards search has been nothing like that. In fact, it’s been unlike any general manager or team president opening I’ve seen. Most of the time, the owner interviews a few candidates over a couple weeks and picks one.
Now closing in on eight weeks into the search, Leonsis has reportedly interviewed four candidates: Tommy Sheppard (Ernie Grunfeld’s top lieutenant in D.C. since 2003), Troy Weaver (a key executive in Oklahoma City for the past 11 seasons), Danny Ferry (from general manager in Cleveland, Atlanta, and interim-GM in New Orleans), and Tim Connelly (who turned down Leonsis’ offer to remain the team president in Denver).
The Wizards were rumored to have interest in Portland president Neil Olshey, but they didn’t request permission to interview him. Olshey has since signed a contract extension to stay with Portland.
The lack of activity is surprising given how long the position has been open. Leonsis may be waiting for teams to be eliminated from the playoffs, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense. For example, there are rumors that Larry Harris, currently with Golden State, could be a target. But, Harris interviewed for the New Orleans job weeks ago (the position went to David Griffin).
And, the Wizards by all reported accounts, have not talked to other people who would seem to be good candidates for the position, such as Trajan Langdon, who impressed in interviews for the top job in New Orleans, and ended up joining Griffin’s staff — without getting an interview with the Wizards, or Mike Zarren, a long-time member of Danny Ainge’s staff in Boston.
Now, it could be that Leonsis and Mike Forde, hired to help run the search, thought they could poach Connelly from Denver, and have pivoted to Plan B. It could be that Plan B is someone like Masai Ujiri, who has Toronto in the NBA Finals for the first time in its history. If that’s the plan, it needs to be executed better than the failed attempt to sign Kevin Durant. In other words, they better know Ujiri is available.
And, it’s important that they land whoever they’re waiting for because at this point, the candidates they’ve interviewed know they’re not the team’s first or second choice. The first choice was Connelly. He turned down the Wizards a week ago, but none of the other three received an offer — that sends a strong signal that Leonsis isn’t entirely comfortable with any of the reported candidates to lead the franchise.
Or, it could be that Plan B is to award the job to Sheppard, who is currently running the front office. If that’s the case, why not make the announcement now? For that matter, why not make the announcement when Connelly passed on the position?
Again, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to conduct a search. Leonsis’ patient, methodical approach could pay off if it accomplishes the most important goal: getting the right person. But, the slow pace and lack of activity is puzzling, and with the draft and free agency approaching, the issue is becoming urgent.