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Ted Leonsis says changes will come to Wizards if team doesn't qualify for postseason

Ted Leonsis says changes will come to Wizards if team doesn't qualify for postseason

The Washington Wizards are pushing for a spot in the 2019 NBA playoffs. The main question for many is simple: What organizational changes if any are coming if they do not reach their goal?

Team owner Ted Leonsis received this query directly Thursday during a lengthy 1-on-1 interview with WTOP radio. More specifically, the questioner asked if severe changes are in the balance should Washington not qualify for the postseason.

“Yeah, definitely," Leonsis responded.

Leonsis passed on outlining any specifics with regards to the future of the primary non-player headliners, team president Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks, should the Wizards playoff dreams fall short. He did however shape some aspects of the organizational mindset both now with the Feb. 7 NBA trading deadline looming and should the team’s campaign end after the regular season.

“Well, we’d have to look at the entire organization whenever we don’t meet our goals to say ‘well, what happened?’ We have a no excuses mantra. Everybody knows that,” Leonsis said. “This is a business where you sit down and, as an owner you say, ‘What do I have to do to make the team and organization successful.

“I thought we did plenty this off-season. We’re certainly spending the money with our players. You can’t predict who will be in the lineup because of injuries. We also made big investments with the opening of our new training facility. …. My expectations are we’re going to make the playoffs and improve on last year.”

Focus on that last comment for a moment.

Making the playoffs won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Following Wednesday’s home win over the Pacers, the Wizards (22-29) moved into a ninth place tie in the Eastern Conference with the Pistons and within 2 ½ games of the eighth-seeded Hornets.

As for improving on last season, that’s trickier.

Washington finished 43-39, entered the playoffs as the eighth seed and lost a first-round series to the Toronto Raptors in six games. This marked the first time in four attempts with the same core group of players that the Wizards did reach at least the second round of the postseason.

Simply improving on last season already indicates a change in the stated preseason goal of at least 50 wins and reaching the Eastern Conference finals.

It's conceivable long-term injuries to three projected starters – Wall, Markieff Morris, and Dwight Howard – had reasonable minds downshifting on those loftier expectations. Yet the hefty payroll remains.

The Wizards have the seventh highest payroll in the league at $129.3 million and a luxury tax bill of $5.6 million. Only eight of 30 NBA teams exceeded the luxury tax threshold this season. Of those, only Washington is currently on the outside of the playoff picture.

Grunfeld, in his role as team president, a job he’s had since 2003, oversees the roster and spending. Leonsis passed on answering a direct question about Grunfeld’s job status, but weighed in on whether he is happy with longtime executive.

“I’m happy if we meet our goals,” Leonsis said. “If we don’t meet our goals we have to sit down and take stock on what do we have to do to improve do in the off-season.”

As for whether that could mean making changes with the front office leader and head coach, Leonsis said, “In pro sports every job is at risk every year. You really do use an offseason to take stock of what you do, but you do that by talking to the players, the agents, people within the organization, people at the league office. It’s not something you make light of.

“You have to remember when you’re a leader of an organization people want to know what is victory. What is that I have to do to move the organization move forward. You can’t be capricious. You can’t be emotional. You have to say here’s the plan. We sign off on the plan together.”

Leonsis reconfirmed his prior no tanking pledge, but opened the door for moves this season not involving the team’s highly paid trio of Wall, Beal and Otto Porter.

 “Now we’ll study should we rebuild, should we retool, can we still make the playoffs and make some trades. We’re not going to sleep on development of the team, but no we’re not tanking in hopes that we finish last in the league and have a couple of percentage points better chance of getting the top pick in the draft."

Despite all the various setbacks, the Wizards are playing their best basketball of the season. Washington is 9-6 in its last 15 games despite a shorthanded roster due to injuries.

“When you suffer injuries, but you’re in no excuses mode, you can’t fall back to woe is me. You have to go to the players, the coach, the staff and say do we have enough to make the playoffs. To a person I was told yes we do. There are 30 games left in the season. There’s injuries to other teams occurring now to. … I think we have to stay the course for this season.”

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What to expect: Urgency and the unknown headline Wizards' return after the All-Star break

What to expect: Urgency and the unknown headline Wizards' return after the All-Star break

The 2019 NBA All-Star weekend is in the books. Now, where were we?

Ah, right, the Wizards in pursuit of an Eastern Conference playoff berth. Washington returns to practice Wednesday and to game action Friday at Charlotte. Before all that, a quick reset and look ahead. 

Yes, things were bumpy before the weeklong break – Washington lost its final two games and seven of 10 to match a season-worst record 10 games under .500. Fortunately, the Wizards (24-34) play in the Eastern Conference which means those postseason hopes remain within arm’s reach (though having Giannis Antetokounmpo’s cartoonish wingspan would help).

Sitting in 11th place, the Wizards must pass three teams to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. Five teams – Charlotte, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, and Washington – are effectively vying for the final two playoffs spots. The Wizards are 2.5 games back of the Magic, which entered the break winning five in a row, three behind eighth-seeded Pistons, and trail the Hornets by 3.5.

Based on projections from the research website Basketball-Reference, the Magic and Pistons seize the final two berths with 38 wins. For 39 wins, the Wizards must finish 15-9 over their last 24 games. That would become their best stretch of the season considering Washington’s longest winning streak of the season is only three.

Good news: The Wizards have the sixth easiest remaining strength of schedule.

Related news: The Magic has the third easiest, Pistons seventh.

Potentially uh-oh news: Washington, a dismal 7-23 on the road this season, returns with three of four games away from home. 

That’s a lot working against the Wizards. There is where it would be cool to show a stat that provides additional confidence. That’s not happening. There won’t be numbers reflecting downside either beyond the current slide. 

That’s because with John Wall undergoing season-ending Achilles heel surgery, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris playing elsewhere, and several new players on the roster, season-long statistics no longer apply.

Consider the Wizards’ current nine-man rotation based on recent usage. Of those nine, only two-time All-Star Bradley Beal remains in the same role as when the season began. 

Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant moved up the depth chart because of injuries elsewhere. That’s somewhat the case with Jeff Green, though only Beal could rival the veteran’s forward consistency this season. Chasson Randle, now the primary backup point guard, bounced back and forth between the NBA and the G-League for chunks of the season.

The others – Trevor Ariza, Jabari Parker, Wesley Johnson, and Bobby Portis – were not on the team for the opening six weeks of the season. The non-Ariza’s arrived less than two weeks ago. This is effectively a new team, which adds additional challenges for Brooks. 

The unknown is perhaps also Washington’s best hope. 

We could assume plenty, namely that this core is less talented than the one that included Wall, Porter, and Morris. Of course, that group struggled significantly when the season tipped, losing six of seven. 

Meanwhile, the Wizards’ record since Dec. 28 is just a tick underwater (11-12), which isn’t bad when considering the overall record and recent stumbles. Yes, we just explained that many of the current players are new. The enhanced focus and consistency displayed during this stretch should remain with Beal, Ariza, and Green in primary roles. 

We can also note the Wizards are 2-2 in the four games since the pre-deadline deals that brought Portis, Parker, and Johnson to Washington. The last two games, both losses, were without Satoransky, who was away from the team for the birth of his first child. His absence led to several quirky lineups as Brooks tried making do without his lone proven point guard. 

There’s also the notion of the Wizards receiving a more extended look at Portis, a 2019 restricted free agent and possible starting power forward of the future. Portis is averaging 19 points per game while shooting 54.5 percent on 3-pointers. That accuracy isn't sustainable, but it's unclear his overall ceiling after only four games with his new team. 

Additional depth may come in the form of rookie Troy Brown. Washington’s 2018 first-round pick missed the prior six games after suffering a grade-2 sprained ankle against Milwaukee Feb. 2. Before the break, Brooks stated he anticipated Brown returning after the break, though without a specific timeline.  Whether the head coach uses the 6-foot-6 wing regularly as long as Washington remains in the playoff race is another story. 

Future thinking receives headliner status for the remainder of this season. We at least know big decisions lie ahead. Whether this new-ish group finds a playoff groove is part of the unknown.

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Wizards are nearing important decision involving Jordan McRae's two-way contract

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Wizards are nearing important decision involving Jordan McRae's two-way contract

The Washington Wizards return to action after the All-Star break with their next game on Friday against the Hornets. Not long after that, they could have an important roster decision to make.

Guard Jordan McRae is nearing the end of his 45-day two-way clock. Players signed to two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days at the NBA level and McRae has only nine remaining, according to a person familiar with the situation. 

Once those nine days are up, he will not be allowed to play for the Wizards until the regular season ends for the Capital City Go-Go, their G-League affiliate. The Go-Go play their final game on March 23.

After those 45 days, the Wizards would also have the option to convert McRae's two-way deal to a standard NBA contract. But it appears unlikely they will do that based on the fact they have just $153,433 separating them from the luxury tax threshold (estimate via Spotrac). They just made a pair of trades to get out of the luxury tax and have no plans of going back in.

The 45-day clock has some specific rules that could help the Wizards' cause. Travel days do not count against the 45-day limit and neither do off-days on the road. Five of the Wizards' first eight games out of the break are away from Washington.

The 45 days are also not counted until G-League training camp, which generally begins about a month after NBA camps open. So, the 45-day maximum can technically be stretched to around 70 over the course of a full NBA season.

McRae, 27, has appeared in 19 games for the Wizards after joining them as a free agent last summer. He is averaging 4.3 points in 9.1 minutes at the NBA level.

He has been a star for the Go-Go, averaging 29.9 points (most in the G-League), 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He was named a G-League mid-season All-Star.

Surely, McRae would like an NBA contract, but it's worth noting he gets paid more money the more time he spends with the Wizards. Two-way players can earn roughly $300,000 more by playing out their 45 allotted days in the NBA.

Also, the Wizards would like to keep him beyond this season, according to someone with knowledge of their plans. They see him as part of a growing group of players they would like to retain that is headlined by Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant. To keep McRae, they can make him a restricted free agent.

If the Wizards don't convert his contract, however, McRae will not be eligible for the playoffs this spring, if Washington is to qualify.

At this point, it appears likely the Wizards avoid McRae's 45-day clock from expiring. In order to do that, they may have to keep him down with the Go-Go for much longer than they would prefer to.

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