With the recent decision to move on from Tommy Sheppard, the Washington Wizards are looking for their second general manager in the past 4 years. As they start this process, there are three critical traits that are needed for this new general manager to get this team on the right track.
Must Be Exceptional At Drafting
I think this goes without saying for many of us, but it needs to be said for the people in the back. The Wizards have failed at the draft again and again, and this is probably the most valuable attribute a new General Manager can bring to the table. Since the 2000 NBA Draft, John Wall and Bradley Beal have been the only draft picks that have become all-stars. The Wizards’ 2013 1st Round Pick, Otto Porter, is the most recent draft pick that has received an extension beyond their rookie contract.
Why is drafting magnified with this team? Let’s consider that the Wizards are generally not considered a sought-after destination for marquee free agents. The biggest free agent signing in the past 20 years, Gilbert Arenas, was the result of a coin flip. Historically, big free agents haven’t come to the Wizards. When you are in a situation like that, it magnifies the draft because that’s the only other way you can obtain superstar talent. In the case of the Wizards, their draft record hasn’t even afforded them the opportunity to package players together to even acquire such a player, much less draft that player. Hitting on the draft is the biggest step for the new General Manager to turn this team around.
Honest Evaluator of the Team
This is a crucial element for this team that has plagued this team for decades. You can go back as far as the infamous Juwan Howard $100-million contract extension, which was a failure the moment the ink dried. The Wizards have had the tendency to overvalue certain players and overpay to keep good, not great players. This is not to say these are not valuable players, but it’s to say that they end up in roles that are not ideal for them, they get over inflated stats and the team doesn’t view the bigger picture of how the success of that player individually does not lead to a path of building a contending team.
To handle this, the next General Manager is going to have to be astute at not only evaluating talent on the team, but also as the late singer Kenny Rogers said in The Gambler:
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
In other words, there are times when you keep players and build around them and then there are optimal times to trade players and get maximum value. If you ask me, most recently, the Wizards have missed this opportunity with Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma. With the first two, they both ended up getting extensions that, from most pundits, were viewed as severe overpays. Trading those two at peak value could have yielded a much clearer path for the future for this team of becoming a contender. The same could be said for Kuzma, especially considering the team was already, at that point, struggling to stay in the playoff race and a number of players were able to return significant draft capital at the trade deadline.
Certainly you can argue that Tommy Sheppard was only following orders handed out by Ted Leonsis. Most of us probably don’t know the truth with that, but what we do know is this has been an issue before Leonsis was an owner. This is what bad teams do. In order to get to the next level, some times you have to make difficult decisions to put yourself in a better position for the future.
Astute At Roster Building
Speaking of difficult decisions, to build a great roster, there are some key items this new General Manager must consider that has often been neglected by this franchise. You have to know when to look at your current needs versus your future needs. So often the Wizards made short term moves to address current issues and as a result sacrificed future flexibility. This example played out when the team traded first round picks to acquire Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, on two separate ocassions. Both were reactions to the team’s shortcomings at the time, but the moves did not put the team in a position to move any closer to contention.
The other part of this, which created the need for moves like the Gortat and Morris trade, is that the roster needs to be balanced. The team for the past couple of years has had a glut of players who played the same position, who did the same things and it ended up creating a situation where the value for those players started to tank.
In my opinion, I believe the Wizards waited too long to trade Rui Hachimura and it put the team in a position that once he was traded, there was very little leverage and not as much value to get in return. From the moment the Russell Westbrook trade happened, the writing was on the wall. How can you have a roster of both Kuzma and Hachimura without consideration of if either would be capable or willing to accept a role off the bench? It doesn’t seem like there was a clear vision for how both would be part of the future and when you have a roster that is built with too many similar problems, these are the issues that come up.
We may not know a lot about who the next general manager will be, but what we do know is the next person to run the Wizards front office will not be perfect. This person will not get every draft pick right, this person will not win every trade, and this person will likely not make this team much better for next few years. With all that in mind, this person will need to make strides in some, if not all of these areas or this team will not take steps to get beyond the cycle of mediocrity. Here’s hoping to the right person who can push this team in the right direction.