Then he fired Ernie Grunfeld, replaced him with Tommy Sheppard, and completely restructured the front office with new hires, including former Cleveland Browns executive Sashi Brown, who was known as the NFL’s Sam Hinkie.
Washington’s front office now includes a number of new faces — two of which were plucked from the Los Angeles Clippers (Mark Simpson as the vice president of player performance and Johnny Rogers as the vice president of pro personnel) — with a variety of kind-of confusing titles and duties.
Leonsis wanted to model the team’s front office like the Clippers — and he quite literally started poaching their staff. The more voices, the better, or at least that’s the idea.
Following a months-long process, the Wizards now understand what the leadership will look like — it’s comprised of young, analytic-driven minds (Washington hired analytics guru Dean Oliver to be a part of the coaching staff) who, at least theoretically, should reshape the team’s traditional approach to evaluating talent and finally modernize the archaic system the Wizards used for almost two decades.
Structure, puzzling job titles and surprising hires aside, the reshaping of the front office signals the ownership’s acceptance of the team’s situation.
For years, the Wizards have been playing catch up. Sure, Leonsis and Co. purchased the latest technologies to advance the team’s assessment of the roster, built a $70 million practice facility, and even paid the luxury tax, but the Wizards never quite understood how to utilize those assets.
The issues are much more complex to point the finger at a single person, but, by his own admission, Leonsis understands that he mismanaged the franchise. While the fire burned, Leonsis thought he could put it out by simply throwing more money at it, when, in fact, all that did was create more flames.
It was a dishonest approach.
When John Wall tore his Achilles, the Wizards should have looked themselves in the mirror, like a competent franchise, and understood the situation — it was time to rebuild, not hoard veteran players with hopes of maybe eking out enough wins to get swept in the first round of the playoffs. Instead of trading the likes of Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green for draft picks, Leonsis let Grunfeld hold onto the role players, only to watch them walk in the summer for nothing.
The Wizards let assets slip through their fingers. They watched the fire become larger, overtake the franchise, and thought that merely pissing on the flames would put it out.
But finally — this summer — the team accepted the fact that restarting is actually OK.
There’s no more playing catch-up. There’s no more denying that all playing catch-up does is leave you further behind. Washington — specifically, Leonsis — has accepted that there’s no short cuts to building a consistent, stable, and healthy winner.
At times this upcoming season — and probably for years — it’s going to be painful. The schedule is finally out, so you can see for yourself. The over/under has been set at 27.5 wins — and after looking at the schedule, it’s hard to imagine more than 25.
The secret to winning in the NBA isn’t much of a secret — it takes talent and cohesion. The Wizards roster can walk right by the most die-hard Wizards fan, and that fan would probably have a difficult time identifying most of the players on the team right now. The veterans — the Arizas, Greens, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parkers of the world — are gone and they have been replaced with mostly unknown young talent and role players on cap-friendly contracts.
Washington doesn’t have talent — and, for now, that is a-okay.
The product on the court won’t be pretty. Washington will have to rely heavily on 20-year-old Troy Brown, rookie Rui Hachimura, and a couple of point guards who would struggle to crack a rotation on a winning team. Bradley Beal is still on the roster, but that, too, could change.
Washington is going to lose — a lot.
Yet this season, the losing is going to feel different. The losses won’t feel disappointing. Chances are, the fans in the arena won’t boo their own team. The toxic feel the team carried for the past few years is gone.
Fans, players, and pundits alike can all heave a collective sigh of relief.
The Wizards finally have a plan — and with that plan, the team is going to suffer through plenty of growing pains. This time, though, there’s going to be a whole team of determined, intelligent and forward-thinking executives overlooking the process — a front office ensuring that the suffering will eventually be worth it.
That’s right. The Wizards will “trust the process.”
So, with just a few months remaining until the beginning of the season, and the seemingly-daily news of another front office hire finally subsiding, rest assured — the Wizards know what the team is up against and have a plan in place to rebuild the franchise’s spirit, and create a winning franchise long-term.