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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