WASHINGTON -- It appears Wizards senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard has a strong backer in his corner as the organization searches to replace former team president Ernie Grunfeld.
That supporter is in fact owner Ted Leonsis.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any issues of attracting really, really great people (for interviews). I also wanna say that Tommy Sheppard is a candidate,“ Leonsis told reporters shortly after the team announced Grunfeld’s dismissal following 16 years with the organization.
Sheppard, who spent the last quarter-century working in the NBA including 16 seasons with the Wizards, has a broad portfolio with the organization. He scouts college and professional basketball talent coast to coast and around the globe.
Sometimes it’s about going round and round during various negotiations. At times, the genial Sheppard plays the role of locker room sounding board.
Leonsis added new duties Tuesday. Sheppard would handle Grunfeld’s personnel responsibilities on an interim basis and report to the owner directly.
It sounds like Sheppard has a shot at both of those tasks on a full-time basis. Just ask Brian MacLellan.
The Capitals GM served as the primary assistant to George McPhee when Leonsis shook up the front office in 2014. MacLellan wowed in his interview and got the head job. Washington won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 2018.
“Tommy is the first person I met with,” Leonsis said, “and I reminded Tommy of what happened with the Capitals. That our No. 2 to the GM that wasn’t a known commodity wasn’t a frontrunner. He had the best interview. And the reason he had the best interview was he was the most prepared and he knew all of the good things and all of the not good things.
“And so I’ve told Tommy it’s not lip service, you’re highly regarded and there’s other teams that want to talk to Tommy and when the time comes, we will interview for the top job.”
Sheppard, a GM candidate over the years for openings including the Hawks in 2017, is reportedly in consideration for the Pelicans’ GM vacancy, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The Wizards will also consider outside options. Leonsis said a search firm would aid in the process.
According to league sources, early rumored candidates beyond Sheppard include Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, Rockets executive VP of basketball operations Gersonn Rojas, Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and Pelicans interim GM Danny Ferry.
Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin and Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon are other potential options.
NBC Sports’ NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh provided insight into possible candidates following Grunfeld’s dismissal including the one certainly in the mix:
The Wizards have made it clear: They don’t see Sheppard as Ernie 2.0. He’s a real option to take over for the long haul. …
If it isn’t the Wizards, some team will scoop up Sheppard. Should you want to know the latest technologies and sports science innovations that could rule the NBA in five years, Sheppard is on the short list of those in-the-know. His curiosity isn’t his only feather in his cap. He carries institutional knowledge of the Wizards’ inner-workings, decades of experience across multiple organizations, a deep Rolodex of power brokers in the league and the interpersonal skills for the job.
Regardless of Sheppard’s résumé, his long ties to Grunfeld could work against him. More from Haberstroh.
If anybody deserves a shot, it’s Tommy [Sheppard],” one prominent league executive said. “But the fanbase is going to clamor for change. Is Tommy enough of a change?
The Wizards, already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, have four games remaining in the regular season. While the main off-season events – the draft and free agency – are more than two months, there’s a need for expediency.
“I’m very cognizant of the (NBA) calendar on what will happen with the (draft) lottery and what will happen with free agency and what will happen with the draft. But right now, my main goal is to right now as fast as I can bring in an outside firm to provide some services for us,” Leonsis said. “I want to do what’s called ‘best practicing.’ What do the best organizations look like? What do they spend? Maybe I made mistakes in the way we spent and invested our money. I have to be open minded."
Leonsis likes his chances of the opening attracting interest.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with finding somebody who wants to come to Washington D.C. in a brand-new wonderful building like [the Wizards practice facility] and a great arena and an organization that shows it will spend what’s necessary to try and win,” the team owner said.
None of the candidates knows the ins and out of the practice facility, Capital One Arena and the Wizards organization like Sheppard. The strength of his Brian MacLellan impersonation could be the deciding factor.
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