Wizards

Wizards

Those who work for the Washington Wizards can expect to see managing partner Ted Leonsis around more often. After conducting a months-long restructuring of the organization, Leonsis discovered there could be benefits to a more hands-on approach from ownership, not necessarily in a basketball-meddling sense, but in a way that allows the front office to operate with proper autonomy while answering more questions about their process.

Players, coaches and staffers will see Leonsis and his partners more frequently as well. He wants to pay closer attention than he did under the previous regime led by Ernie Grunfeld.

"Our owners are going to be more involved," Leonsis said. "You constantly have to gauge back and forth: is it good to be involved, or is it not good to be involved? Every agent, every player that I’ve talked to said the more they see Raul Fernandez and Laurene Powell-Jobs and me, the more connected they feel to what our vision and what our ultimate plan is."

In analyzing the Wizards organization this spring following Grunfeld's dismissal, Leonsis realized a lack of communication. Under the old model, he got the vast majority of his briefings from Grunfeld who was a singular conduit to the ownership group.

Leonsis wants more collaboration this time and it shows in the way the front office is structured. Tommy Sheppard is the general manager, but can see eye-to-eye with Sashi Brown, their chief planning and operations officer. And not far from them on the depth chart are a series of vice presidents, each with specialized roles.

 

The Wizards now have more top-level executives operating on a more even plane. They don't report to one team president like they used to with Grunfeld.

The ways Leonsis can be more involved have already been in practice in recent months. Throughout the offseason, as Sheppard was put through a trial run with an interim tag, he was tasked with explaining his process in more detail than Grunfeld had in the past. 

Before the draft and free agency he gave Leonsis his plans, complete with goals, budget and contingencies. They were written proposals and were presented to the team's group of governors.

For example, Leonsis was privy to their hope of drafting Rui Hachimura with the ninth overall pick. Sheppard explained why they wanted Hachimura and what they would do to make sure other teams did not know their plans. The Wizards, for instance, did not host Hachimura for a pre-draft workout in Washington.

Leonsis has also been keeping a closer eye on John Wall's injury rehab than he had with other players in the past. The Wizards training staff provides Leonsis periodical reports on Wall's progress, including his weight and road ahead.

Leonsis is going to know much more about the day-to-day operations of his team moving forward, though he insists he won't micromanage.

"I never played in the NBA. I never have worked in an NBA front office," he said in April after firing Grunfeld. 

"My belief has not changed since I bought the teams. I think owners should set strategy and vision and provide infrastructure and respond to what the organization says it needs. And you need to spend the money. I think I've done that and I want to continue to do that."

Building a winning front office can be an indeterminate pursuit. Any time a team overhauls its organization like this, there is some guesswork. No one truly knows when they make hires and changes like this, whether it will actually work.

But Leonsis knows changes needed to be made and, after doing his due diligence to study other, more successful organizations in sports, he came away with the belief he and his partners need to be more involved with the process. He wants to build the Wizards into a winner and believes this could be part of the method to getting there.

"This community loves basketball and I've let them down. We haven't won 50 games. We haven't competed for a championship since we've owned the team," Leonsis said.

"Nothing will be a better feeling for every one of us to be in service to our fanbase and to the community than to build a championship and that’s what we’re going to do."

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