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Leonsis on Wall's injury, other challenges


Leonsis on Wall's injury, other challenges

Entering his third season as the Wizards owner, Ted Leonsismet with the media on Thursday night inside the PatriotCenter at George Mason University. In the secondof a two-part series, Leonsis addresses the development of John Wall, plans fora Wizards training facility and the emotional challenges of being aprofessional sports owner. To read Part 1 of the interview, click here.What was your reaction to hearing about John Walls injuryand how do you think hell respond?
Ted Leonsis: Frankly, when I first heard about it, I thought, Badtiming. But after I got the facts I was relieved. I give our staff a lot ofcredit because John felt pain over the summer, was told he had bursitis, wastold again to rest it, he had bursitis. It was our staff and Ernie that justsaid it doesnt feel right and kept digging. They found this preventativelyearly. So when I heard no surgery, rest and eight weeks I was relieved. Thereare other young players that have not had that early detection system and theymissed the whole season. We dont have that situation. John has internalizedthat and hes now upbeat. I was just shooting baskets with him and I had to teachhim who Sam Jones was. I was at a charity event the other night with MichaelWilbon and I spent time with Sam Jones. I had to show John how Sam used thebackboard from the foul line. Not many people do that anymore. But hes upbeatnow. Hes accepted it and hes going to do the right thing so that he can comeback. Were keeping him a part of the team so that he doesnt get disengaged,that hes a part of everything, I think were fortunate that hell miss thefirst month and thats all.Off the court, what changes or achievements have you madethat youre most proud of since you took ownership of this team?Well, the investments weve made go on and on. I dont knowif any of you have seen the Zero G treadmill we have. It doesnt sound likemuch, but we were the first team in the league to buy that and when you haveplayers that are injured, they can work out. The Capitals have a pool with atreadmill in it. When you have players that are injured they can go into thepool and work out. Those are two littleexamples of smart, kind of tech-oriented investments that weve made that giveus comfort and hopefully advantage that injured players have the bestinfrastructure around them to train the right way while they are not able to gofull speed. Do you see a Kettler-type training facility for theWizards?Very much so. I dont have any announcements. Its notclose. It took a long time with Kettler, but yeah. When we built the KettlerCapitals Iceplex and it was such an upgrade from what we were accustomed to,but for the rest of the league as well, it was another proof point that we wereserious about our level of commitment and investment and as other teams cameand practiced they would leave talking about our practice facility. Ill bedirect. Adam Oates played for us and left and then he signed with Tampa as an assistant coach and the first time I saw himafter he left was when he was coaching for Tampa. We were on the road and Tampa used our facilityand Adam was walking through the parking lot and I saw him through the windowand I said hi. All he did was talk about, I cant believe how great thisbuilding is; how lucky the players are. I cant believe when I go to games andI see the sellouts and what a change. How the team went from aside the mainstreamto being a have team and a part of that was this world-class practicefacility, where the players wanted to hang out. The buzz were getting about George Mason Patriot Centeris similar. How cool is this? Were on a college campus. Were at a hotel. Wereclose to our homes. And were in the center of our fan base. The new players,what a great way for them to be in this experience together. What were doingwith the Verizon Center locker room, itsjust a nice little touch, but its one of a hundred things that we pace interms of ongoing improvements and change that show well invest. Were serious.We want to be a world-class organization. We want to do that with the Wizardsand build something that the community is proud of and fans can come, thatother players who come from other teams go, Geez, thats great. It would begreat to play in this facility and spend a lot of time training here.. Id say the second thing is that were building afundamentally sound team. I think that athletic individual play in the NBA hasnever been greater. The stars in this league, their talent is indescribable,but its still a team game. Playing fundamentally sound basketball I think willbecome more and more in vogue because there is so much talent in the league. Iwant us to be a team thats really, really hard to play against. I think thatsanother part of the process on this road to respectability. Last season 76erscoach Doug Collins, the last game where we beat Philadelphia, pulled me asideafter the game and said, I want you to know that Ive been watching the teamon film and I told our team, Youve handled these guys easily, but youre notgoing to tonight, and if you dont come out and match their intensity and playreally hard, theyre going to beat us. And we did. He said it was evidentthat we were playing hard and as a team and for each other. We were making theright pass at the right time, the 50-50 balls we were getting to, the defensiverebounds in transition, we were executing and playing hard and he was seeing onfilm that we were doing a lot of the little things at a higher pace and thatimproved the team and thats just sound basketball. So, I see our coachpreaching fundamentals. I see our coach preaching coming to camp, in shape.This team is in shape and this camp is very competitive because no one knowswhos going to play how many minutes at what position and I think that willserve us well as the season starts because we should be able to get out of thegame with intensity and not feeling each other out because they are running,they are playing hard. Im hoping Nene is there opening night and with him onthe floor, were a different team. He looks at the floor, its like having acoach or a point guard up top and I think the team has a lot of confidence whenhes on the floor. The month of September, your hockey team gets locked out;your WNBA team has the worst possible luck in the lottery; you learn John Wallis going to be out eight week. Even Madonna forces you to pay a Metro bill. Youexpected trials when you became a sports owner but was that as trying a monthas you can have? You know, Im not as self-reflective as you are. Now thatyouve said that, wow! I kind of play the ball where it lies. I mean, thatsthe thing about sports. Its what Ive said for 12 years -- its the hardestindustry business I know. What other business do ping-pong balls drive a lot ofyour success, and make your investment worth more or less? Theres no otherbusiness. I guess you can buy a lottery ticket and think thats your financialplanning for retirement. And health. I never once said at an AOL or Grouponboard meeting, You need to sit down. That Java script coder blew his elbowout. Or that App that we needed is never going to happen. Its why, when youovercome all of those things and you win, why its so exhilarating. Its whythe pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the biggest payoff in anybusiness. Nationals owner Mark Lerner and I are very, very closefriends and we speak daily, email, talking, meeting and they had a tough time,and Im sure theres people in this room who werent very nice to theNationals. They had to gut it out. They had to believe in what they were doing.I certainly went through that with the Capitals. Its a very, veryhardcraft to apply. To have the strength of belief and the internal fortitude tosay there is no magic wand. There is no free lunch. There is no easy way to getthere. And you get pummeled. You guys pummel us. You do. You pummel so much inthis new world and you become numb. From a self-reflective standpoint you canonly move forward. You can only deal with the cards youre dealt and thatswhat Ive tried to do and I believe steadfast in our plan. We have eightplayers under rookie contracts. We have managed the cap appropriately. We will able to keep theyoung players that we want. Well be able, as the team gets better, to have capflexibility to sign players. Well have assets that well be able to trade andthe plan is to just get better and better and better until you wake up one dayand youre have team. And I cant tell you when thats going to happen. Idont know if its this year or next year.2015?I read on ESPN that we won the NBA championship in 2015.So, Im sorry for sharing that reflection with all of you, but that is how wehave to deal with it. One more question? John Wall has called this third year a make-or-breakseason for him. Is there a concern he will put too much pressure on himselfwhen he does come back?I dont know. Yes and no. I am thrilled with his selfawareness, that hes our leader who weve rebuilt the team around and that heworked incredibly hard this offseason to take that next step. His physiogamychanged. Hes bigger, hes stronger. His athletic gifts are off the chart. Heworked a lot on his shot. While I was playing with him and fetching the ballfor him and shooting, you can see it. You can see the difference in the releasepoint. You can see the rotation of the ball is different and great playersevery year use that offseason to work on something and improve something. So hewas psyched to come back because he knows the league now, he knows the refs, heknows the other teams. He knows the drill. He knows how hard travel is. Heknows he has to nap. You kind of have to go through that process of being aprofessional. So hes very confident and he likes the team. He likes that theteam is serious about basketball. That it likes to watch film. John is astudent of the game. I went to the corner and said, Who shoots here? He says,Larry Bird. That may be as far back as he goes, but hes a student of thegame. Hes everything youd want in a young player. A mature leader, someonewho puts that pressure on him. At the same time, its incumbent on us to builda team around him that has options. We were fortunate to get Bradley Beal inthe draft this year. We think hes another young player that will grow up withJohn and plays a game thats complementary to John. So we have to continuouslyadd to the team to make it great and thats Ernies job. Thats my job. Thatsthe coaches job. And John accepts that. He understands that hes not in thisalone. Its a franchise, an organization and the fans as well. And I mean that.I speak to the fans, that they are a big part of our rebuild. Were one of thefastest growing teams in the league in terms of new ticket sales. Were workingreally hard to get that bottom bowl sold out. Thats the strategy. Sell thebottom bowl, then work your way up, then get to 10,000 season tickets, whichputs you in elite level and then youre a have team and the fans arebelieving. Our renewal rates are very, very high. They are above leagueaverage. They are high 80s right now and were selling a lot of new tickets andits all a part of a cycle. TV ratings go up. Team plays better. You sell moremerchandise. The players are recognized when theyre going out. The familiesfeel more comfortable in the community. The building is really loud. It allworks together. This is our third season and the amount of energy that you expendat the beginning of the plan, its like physics. The more you push early, themore velocity you get. I was asked the other day, do you feel youre onschedule and so we have to play the season. But were ahead of schedule on thebusiness side. What the fans are doing, what Comcast is telling us. I wasthrilled the other day that, to be honest, we were on the front page of thenewspaper when there are other teams making really big news. I think that was agood signal that, yeah, the Nats won the pennant and the Redskins won a gameand their young quarterback is a star, but the Wizards are opening the season,too. And so, I see lots of blinking green lights. We have so much more workstill to do. But I do think were moving forward and well know at the end ofthis season whether this was a successful year and whether the plan took thatnext step. And right now, if you cant be positive and upbeat before the seasonis beginning, when can you be? Im feeling pretty good right now.

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Friday's trade for Trevor Ariza was wild, but nothing surprises Scott Brooks or John Wall

Friday's trade for Trevor Ariza was wild, but nothing surprises Scott Brooks or John Wall

Follow the NBA long enough and one learns to expect the unexpected. Participating inside the lines removes the shock value almost entirely.

The three-team trade between the Wizards, Suns, and Grizzlies, an otherwise ordinary deal involving good but not All-Star-level players became social media’s favorite child for a stretch Friday night. The deal died on the vine because of miscommunication over which player with the same sir name was included in the deal.

Unusual, certainly. Awkward because the report broke publicly mere moments after the Wizards’ latest road loss, unfortunately.

“The first time I've ever seen a trade go dead and guys are on a bus talking about it,” Wizards guard John Wall said Saturday. “Kind of devastating for those guys.”

That doesn’t mean the situation moved the needle on Wall’s personal Richter scale of shock.

“Nothing surprises me now, nine years in,” Wall said. “I’ve seen a guy get traded at halftime. Nothing can surprise me now.”

That guy wasn’t Wall’s current head coach, Scott Brooks, but former Wizard guard Kirk Hinrich. Turns out Brooks has his own personal traded-at-halftime tale from his playing days. He’s also been on teams that entered a season with high expectations only to struggle with reaching those forecasted heights. That’s happening now for the 11-18 Wizards.

Friday’s failed trade resurrected Saturday morning as Washington traded Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix for ex-Wizard Trevor Ariza.

Some crazed situation that left Brooks speechless? Actually at the moment, yes, but only because the coach was not at liberty to discuss the transaction. The trade remains unofficial until the league office reopens Monday.

It’s unclear what level bombshell must occur to astonish Brooks. Even the current frustrations, while disappointing, aren’t revelatory for a man now in his 25th NBA season as a player and coach.

“I've been in the league long enough. Nothing surprises me,” Brooks said moments before his point guard uttered almost the exact same phrase. “That's part of being in this league. You have to expect things not to always go your way. I know one thing. The only way to get out of it is doing it together, figuring it out together. Nothing surprises me. It's just part of the business.”

The Houston Rockets conducted some business on Feb. 23, 1995 by trading Brooks to the Dallas Mavericks for guard Morlon Wiley and a second-round draft pick. Deals happen. This one stood out for the timing.

“That was one of the bad days of my life in the NBA,” Brooks revealed on a radio show last year. “At halftime of the game, we go back, Coach [Rudy] Tomjanovich makes some halftime adjustments. … We come onto the court and we’re in the layup line, and all of a sudden the general manager grabs me out of the layup line and says, ‘Hey, Scott, I gotta talk to you.’ So he pulls me out of the line, brings me back to the locker room and he says, ‘Hey, you’ve been traded.’ I was like, ‘What?’ ”

That personal experience altered Brooks’ surprise quotient going forward.

“I look at things different,” he said Saturday. “There a lot of tough things in the world right now. I was traded at halftime. That was tough on me, but that’s really not tough on me. I was still making a lot of money and the next team, Dallas, still paid me in cash.”

Brooks keenly remembers his halftime trade. Wall didn’t have the exact details correct on Hinrich’s departure; he recalled his backcourt partner playing in the first half of the Feb. 23 contest against the Philadelphia 76ers but the box score says otherwise. Hinrich did learn about the trade to the Hawks between the second and third quarter. That’s wild enough.

“I’ve seen everything you basically can see,” Wall said.

That now includes a trade falling through in such a public and awkward way. Once Ariza joins the squad, all that matters is whether his old/new team turns around this clumsy season that began with high hopes. It won’t surprise anyone if Ariza’s veteran presence sparks a rally. After watching the opening 29 games, who can say for sure.

“We're not playing nowhere near what we're capable of,” Wall said. “Maybe that's the move we should have made to make it happen, I don't know. We don't know until we get out there.”


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Wizards' rivalry with LeBron James begins new chapter with Lakers in town

Wizards' rivalry with LeBron James begins new chapter with Lakers in town

LeBron James' dominance for the better part of two decades has had a ripple effect around the league, to where just about every franchise has been directly or indirectly altered one way or the other over the years. The Wizards, being in the Eastern Conference, have seen their relation to James evolve quite a bit.

Early on, they had a defined and entertaining rivalry with James and his first edition Cavaliers. From his days with the Heat through his second tenure in Cleveland, James operated as a big brother in the conference.

Now, with James in Los Angeles, their head-to-head rivalry will enter a new chapter, beginning with their first meeting on Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

James has left the East and therefore does not affect the Wizards as much as he used to. But he still remains a marquee match-up and playing for the Lakers certainly helps that cause.

"Playing against LeBron always brings out the best in everybody," guard John Wall said. "Why wouldn't you get up for a game like that?"

James, 34, remains arguably the league's best player. He is third in points per game (28.4) while shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three. He's also averaging 7.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Those are MVP-type numbers, especially on a Lakers team that doesn't have another All-Star.

Exciting games always seem to happen when James plays the Wizards, no matter the stage or the team he's playing for. He had legendary playoff battles with the Wizards in the mid-2000s, famously duking it out with Gilbert Arenas. His Cavs and the Wizards played in the first round of the postseason three straight years, from 2005 through 2008, with James taking each series.

As the Wizards went through a rebuild and missed the playoffs from 2008 through 2013, their meetings with James' Cavs and then the Heat were always marked on the calendar. In December of 2012, when the Wizards were en route to a 29-win campaign, they beat James' Heat in Washington. It was their biggest win of the season and the game drew extra attention with Robert Griffin III, then the talk of the town, in attendance.

The Wizards haven't met James in the playoffs during Wall's era, but they had some memorable regular season battles. The one that comes to mind first was in February of 2017.

James' Cavs had won the title the summer before and the Wizards were playing their best basketball since drafting Wall. They went to overtime on national television with James hitting a circus three-pointer while fading out of bounds (:50 mark) to help Cleveland earn the victory. The game was described as an "instant classic" by head coach Scott Brooks.

So much has happened for both James and the Wizards since. Now, James is a Laker and in the beginning of what will likely be the home stretch of his prime. The Wizards, meanwhile, are stumbling and making trades to shuffle their roster.

The Wizards will enter this match-up fresh off a trade with the Suns, one that brought Trevor Ariza to Washington. Ariza, though, won't be available because the trade isn't official and that will leave the Wizards with a depleted roster.

Dwight Howard remains out due to a back injury and Otto Porter Jr. missed their last two games, plus Saturday's practice, with a knee contusion. The Wizards practiced with eight players and are expected to bring Troy Brown Jr. and someone else in from their G-League affiliate.

"It's a tough task. We're probably gonna have to play a lot of minutes," Wall said.

"We've gotta make sure we're ready to go," Beal added. "We have no choice, or else we're gonna lose."

The supporting cast continues to change year-to-year and, for the Wizards lately, week-to-week. But there remains a lot of history between them and James, with Sunday gearing up to be the latest installment.