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Tommy Sheppard is a breath of fresh air for the Wizards

For the first time in nearly two decades, the front office is approaching the team with honesty.

Monumental Basketball Introductory Press Conference Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Tommy Sheppard was Ernie Grunfeld’s right hand man for almost two decades. He spent the last nine years working for the Washington Wizards under Ted Leonsis’ direction. He’s been in the same building — every day, evaluating the same talent that Grunfeld assessed. He was second in command for a team that largely disappointed, failed to locate talent in the draft and gave albatross contracts to players that could have — with a bit of logic and rationality — easily been avoided.

Yet Sheppard is still a breath of fresh air.

Sheppard is charismatic, charming, and has already done more media appearances on behalf of the organization than Grunfeld had in years (this obviously isn’t verified, but I bet it’s pretty darn close).

He’s open to talking to reporters — and through his quotes, he’s outlined a vision for Wizards fans who’ve been kept in the dark, wondering what in the hell is actually going on with the organization.

Sheppard won’t outright call this a rebuild. That word is scary. Nowadays, “rebuilding” is synonymous with “tanking” — something Leonsis said the Wizards would never, ever do.

But look closely — actually, it won’t require much effort — and you will see a team starting over.

Washington made a series of moves — and non-moves — last season that indicated they were going for it again. And by “going for it,” the Wizards were trying to win 40-something games and make the playoffs, only to get embarrassed in the first round by a more developed, coherent team.

Sheppard saw enough of that, so he let Tomas Satoransky — the player he helped scout and draft — walk. He then opted not to re-sign Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, who Grunfeld acquired for Otto Porter, a former building block in D.C. Trevor Ariza, who could have been traded for a draft pick last season, signed with the Sacramento Kings, without as much really even considering rejoining the Wizards.

The Wizards had interest in bringing back some of those players.

Sheppard reached out to Portis’ representatives and hadn’t completely closed the door on re-signing Satoransky. But once they let the market play out — Satoransky signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Bulls and Portis agreed to a two-year, $31 million contract with the Knicks — Sheppard’s interest disappeared.

He remembered 2016 — when the Wizards signed Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi to multiyear deals that ultimately haunted the franchise. So instead of running it back, maybe making the playoffs, only to do the same thing the subsequent season, Sheppard accepted reality: the Wizards needed to let those players — some of their top scorers and contributors — walk, because having their services wasn’t worth the salary cap constraints that would come with bringing them back.

Sheppard has made cap-conscious decisions — he’s acquired second round draft picks and dumped players with poisonous contracts. Sheppard traded Dwight Howard to the Memphis Grizzlies for veteran forward C.J. Miles — a “Wizard Killer” who will help stabilize a fragile locker room. He acquired sharpshooter Davis Bertans from the San Antonio Spurs — another player who brings high character to a roster mostly comprised of young talent.

None of these moves are game-changers. To an outsider, they appear mostly insignificant, especially during an offseason that saw Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Russell Westbrook all change jerseys.

For a team like the Wizards — a franchise that has not instilled a sense of accountability in the locker room — these moves signal a serious culture change. Losing — and losing badly, without a desire to stop the perpetual bleeding — won’t be a normality under the current roster, but merely a step that the team has to take in order to eventually improve. Now, losing — and the growing pains that come with it — will be a part of the journey, and the ultimate goal Sheppard wants to achieve.

What the Wizards are doing — what Sheppard has done — is rebuilding. Call it “retooling” — call it a “reset.” Call it whatever you want to make yourself feel better.

But don’t kid yourself.

Sheppard has faced the realities of the roster he inherited — salary cap hell, a franchise player with a torn Achilles and a fractured locker room. And for the first time in 16 years, the Wizards have someone who can approach those situations with the honesty it deserves.