Wizards

How will Ted Leonsis' patience in hiring a new GM affect the Wizards' draft process?

Wizards

The Wizards moved into their expansive, new practice facility in Ward 8 last September, just before training camp. That makes this summer the first time it has served as their offseason headquarters.

That has led to a question for the basketball operations staff that is trickier than it may seem: where will they hold their draft war room? 

For many years, it was in the Wizards' locker room at Capital One Arena. They lined it with tables and used a projector screen to watch as Adam Silver delivered the news pick-by-pick.

Now, they need to find a new location, one with proper television viewing and enough space for what could be a larger contingent than in years past with the team holding a higher pick and thus more interest in being there for the action.

With fewer than three weeks until the draft, the question still remains of who will be running that room, who will be making the decisions. Now 59 days since they fired Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards still do not have a full-time replacement as team president.

That timeline, as owner Ted Leonsis explained to NBC Sports Washington this week, is more about patience than panic. He sees choosing Grunfeld's long-term successor as something he shouldn't rush, even if it seems like the Wizards are running out of candidates and time to make the call.

Speculation around the league has the Wizards holding out for someone currently in the front office of an NBA Finals team. The Warriors and Raptors just kicked off their series and, if it goes the distance, will be playing into mid-June. Game 6 is set for June 13 and Game 7 for June 16.

 

If Leonsis can't interview someone in their front office until then, that would leave just days before the draft. And he hinted to NBCSW's Chris Miller he is considering that scenario. 

One of the most interesting things he said on the Wizards Talk podcast was this:

"I wouldn't let one of my key people in the playoffs go interview."

Leonsis is taking his time, hoping to get this right and to not have to go through this process again anytime soon. And, interestingly enough, the 59 days do not stand out as much as one might think in terms of how long these things usually take.

The Pelicans recently took 56 days between firing Dell Demps and hiring David Griffin. Last year, the Hornets had 47 days between dismissing Rich Cho and bringing in Mitch Kupchak.

Those two were short in comparison to how some other teams have operated recently. The Timberwolves waited 114 days before hiring Gersson Rosas to run their front office. James Jones was the interim GM in Phoenix for 185 days before he was promoted to full-time in April.

The key here, though, isn't the time, it is the timing. All of those teams wrapped up their searches long before the draft. The Wizards now seem to at least have a chance of dragging this out until very close to June 20, if not after.

If it goes past June 20, that wouldn't be unprecedented, either. In fact, the last time the franchise was searching for a new team architect, in 2003, they didn't make the hire until June 30. That was, of course, the time they hired Grunfeld, now 16 years ago.

That anecdote may not provide anyone solace for how the Wizards are operating now. They didn't exactly ace the draft in 2003. Though they found Steve Blake in the second round, they picked a bust 10th overall in Jarvis Hayes. 

Whatever they could have gleaned from the pre-draft process about Hayes' bust potential, they missed. And this time around, they could be risking that happening again.

Unless they promote interim president Tommy Sheppard to be their long-term guy, the person they hire will have not been there representing them for the NBA Combine. The global camp was canceled, but Sheppard has been on the road attending agent-held pro days. 

On Monday, the Wizards will begin their pre-draft workout process at the practice facility. The first few days will be a host of players more likely to go in the second round or be options for their G-League team. Some names include Shizz Alston Jr. of Temple, Trey Mourning of Georgetown and Marques Bolden of Duke, according to two people familiar with their plans.

Several days into the process, they will begin bringing in the bigger names, players who could be real options at the No. 9 pick. They have workouts scheduled with Coby White of North Carolina and Keldon Johnson of Kentucky, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

Workouts can sometimes be considered tentative, even days in advance. Some players cancel when they get promises from other teams. It has happened with the Wizards before, like when Chandler Hutchison backed out last-second in 2018.

But in about a week, the Wizards will be getting a close look at players who are real options at ninth overall. Maybe Leonsis can overlook the disadvantages of not having his long-term president there to see those workouts and interact with the players in a face-to-face interview process. But clearly, there would be advantages to having that person there.

Sometimes it is an up-close look at how a player fares against others in his range. Though agents often work to avoid those scenarios, the Wizards used a direct comparison to make their decision last summer.

They chose Troy Brown Jr. with the 15th overall pick after watching him work out in their facility against Zhaire Smith. They took Brown when it came down to him, Smith and Lonnie Walker IV on their draft board, according to people familiar with their process.

If Leonsis gets this hire right, like really right, then no one will care in four years about that person missing a few pre-draft workouts back in the summer of 2019. He is making a call that will set the course for his franchise for many years to come. 

But the calendar keeps shifting and the longer they wait, the more that wait will affect their pre-draft process.

 

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