My first job out of college was a temp job. Temp jobs are unique. They can best be described as an on the job, ongoing interview. Every day, you have to prove yourself as you’re fighting to get a full-time offer without knowing if management is thinking about keeping you on long-term or showing you the door once your contract is up.
This is work situation that interim General Manager Tommy Sheppard currently finds himself in with the Washington Wizards. Sheppard is in an awkward place as he wasn’t management’s first option for the job nor was he the second option either. But here he is, on NBA Free Agency eve, calling the shots for an organization that has yet to give him a full vote of confidence and remove the word ‘interim’ from his job title. Even with all of the uncertainty swirling around him, Sheppard has aced the first part of his on-the-job interview.
On draft night, Sheppard was tasked with drafting a player without a clear short-term or long-term plan in place. With Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green being unrestricted free agents, and the team declining Jabari Parker’s team option, it’s unclear if any of those three guys will be back in Washington next year — leaving a gaping hole at both forward positions. Rather than swinging for the fences and taking a gamble on a guy like Cam Reddish or waiting for a player like Sekou Doumbouya to develop, the Wizards went the safe route by drafting Rui Hachimura.
The previous management would not have gone this route. Washington’s previous GM, Ernie Grunfeld, had no issue drafting high-risk, high-reward guys even though the franchise has a checkered history developing such players (see JaVale McGee, Jan Vesely, and Chris Singleton) who ultimately never panned out for the Wizards.
Is Hachimura going to turn into an all-star for years to come? Probably not. However, he brings more consistency and fills an immediate need for the Wizards. Sheppard opting to go with the steady single and doubles hitter rather than going for the home run already signifies a shift from the previous regime. He wasn’t done there. Sheppard made a draft-day trade, sending over cash considerations for the 42nd overall pick in Admiral Shofield and Jonathan Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers.
But wait, there’s more. A little over a week later, the Wizards sneakily entered themselves into the Anthony Davis trade (and did the Lakers a huge favor in the process) in trading cash considerations once again for Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, and Jemmario Jones of the Lakers in addition to Los Angeles’ 2022 second round pick.
No one is expecting the Wizards to be good next year. So rather than mortgaging the future for what seems like short-term gains, Sheppard is going a different route in acquiring young players, will likely utilize the Capital City Go-Go as more of a farm system, and is putting money back in his boss’ pocket in the process — which is always a good idea when looking for job security.
Sheppard has pushed all of the right buttons so far in his role as the interim GM. He’s signified a shift in regime as he’s making savvy cost cutting moves, values stability over taking unnecessary gambles, and actually values draft picks — something the previous management treated like loose change falling out of their pocket.
Washington is in a clear rebuilding mode for the 2019-2020 season. The Wizards will not be big players once the clock strikes 6 p.m. Eastern tonight. And that’s OK as Washington’s top priorities are re-signing Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky at a price that’s right for the team.
But more importantly, they have a guy running the show who’s fully bought into the big picture. And he is making the correct moves for a team hitting the reset button.
Tommy Sheppard has aced the midterm and will now turn his attention to the final exam. And if the midterm is any indication of how the final might go, the Wizards shouldn’t have to look outside company walls for their next full-time, General Manager.