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New team president offers Wizards some hope

A new episode of the #SoWizards podcast

Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
New Washington Wizards team president Michael Winger, in a photo from 2006.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

When Ron and I last talked, the Washington Wizards had just parted ways with previous team president Tommy Sheppard. Now the Wizards have found Sheppard’s replacement — Michael Winger, a 43-year old NBA executive who gained experience with three successful franchises over the past couple decades.

The resume version of his background would highlight the fact that he’s been part of executive leadership groups that reached seven conference finals and two NBA finals over the past 13 years. Winger’s signature transaction as general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers was the mammoth trade that netted the team Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The non-resume version would include that he was part of the executive leadership group that made the Cleveland Cavaliers roster so bloated and expensive that LeBron James decided he couldn’t win in his home state and bolted for the Miami Heat.

And, Winger was part of choosing Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka over James Harden in Oklahoma City.

And, with the Clippers, he oversaw the unwieldy and widely lampooned load management system, and benefited immensely from the unlimited resources provided by Steve Ballmer.

That said, there are a high number of crimes Wizards fans would commit to see the team reach seven conference finals and two NBA finals over the next 13 years. After all, this is a franchise with four series wins (no more than one in any season) over the past 40 years.

We discuss all this and much-much more in this episode.

One thing we didn’t discuss (because it hadn’t been published yet) was this quote in the Los Angeles Times about Wizards guard Bradley Beal:

His former coaches, his former teammates, they all have extraordinarily high regard for him, and he is unequivocally a superstar. The hardest thing to do in the NBA is acquire a superstar talent and it’s even harder to acquire superstar talent with his level of character. And so, I think it’s an extremely, extremely fortunate starting point. So to me, that’s really exciting to have someone like Brad on the team.”

On their face, these comments are insanely off the mark. As I’ve written and said for years now, Beal is not a superstar — for damn sure not an unequivocal superstar.

The most Pollyannaish optimistic view is that Winger is intentionally putting nonsense into the media for the purpose of signaling to other teams that he’s going to extract a high price for Beal in trade talks.

This is pretty silly, unless NBA executives are dumber than most seem to think. Is a trade negotiator really going to be persuaded to give up more valuable assets than originally planned because Winger praised Beal to the media? Seems unlikely.

Another problem with these comments: Winger’s messaging needed to account for the fact that he has more than one audience. If he was talking to other NBA execs, his strategy seems pointless. They know he’s full of it when he calls Beal “unequivocally a superstar.”

What his message conveys to Wizards fans is they’ll get more of the same. Beal’s a star, just like Sheppard said, just like Ernie Grunfeld said, just like Ted Leonsis said. If The Franchise Player is in place, no need to make major changes. Just diddle around the edges, get some different role players, and winning will commence.

I would have been happier if he’d said Beal is a high-character person and a very good player who can be a valuable part of a winning team.

As it is, the media strategy comes off as incoherent and poorly planned:

  • If the audience is NBA executives, the comments are a pointless waste of breath. They won’t be persuaded or affected when it comes time to negotiate a Beal trade.
  • If the audience is Wizards fans, it’s a bad message that misses the target. Wizards fans want to see the team win. Praising the alleged star who’s failed to win as The Official Franchise Player feels more like an insult than a promise.
  • If the audience is Beal, it’s beyond pathetic that Beal would need his ego stroked to this degree (or that an incoming executive would believe it needs this kind of stroking). It would also seem to undercut the praise for his high character.

It this is a big deal? Probably not. It’s likely in the it’s just an interview, and Winger was trying to say something nice and went too far. What matters is who he hires as the team’s general manager and how he leads the franchise.

Listen here, in the embed below, or wherever you get your podcasts.