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Ted Leonsis says he's 'hitting a reboot' after firing Ernie Grunfeld

Ted Leonsis says he's 'hitting a reboot' after firing Ernie Grunfeld

WASHINGTON -- Wizards owner Ted Leonsis set goals for his NBA team at the start of the current season. Specifically a 50-win season and an Eastern Conference finals appearance with reaching the playoffs the baseline level. The team won’t come close to such aspirations, putting Leonsis in the position of wondering why.

His first step toward understanding where things went haywire occurred Tuesday afternoon with the firing of longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld.

The Wizards, mathematically eliminated from the playoffs during their just completed four-game road trip, are 32-46 with games remaining in the regular season

“I’m hitting a reboot,” Leonsis said to a group of reporters assembled at the team’s practice facility in Ward 8. 

Leonsis became the majority owner in 2010, but Grunfeld directed the front office since 2003 after prior stops with the Knicks and Bucks. 

"Each year that [Ernie] worked for me we sat down and said 'What are our expectations, what are our goals?' And we’re very, very thoughtful and mindful and spend a lot of time on what the goal should be. We set that up this year and we didn’t meet them and so that’s what happened this year.”  

Grunfeld oversaw multiple rebuilds during his 16 seasons in Washington including the most recent version with All-Star guards Bradley Beal and John Wall that reached the postseason in four of five seasons entering the 2018-19 season.

“We’re in deep exploration. The organization also needs to heal right now,” Leonsis said. “This was a tough day for us. Ernie has been with the organization for 16 years. Most of the people that are here, he hired. And he worked as a GM for 30 years. He’s a gifted, talented guy. We met and (it) was very straightforward, very professional. It’s as positive of a parting as can be, if you will.”

Leonsis accepted “responsibility” for the team’s failings during his 20-minute media availability. He also offered some initial thoughts on the next steps.

Tommy Sheppard, a 14-year member of the Wizards organization and the team’s vice president of basketball operations, will report to Leonsis on all basketball matters beginning immediately.

The organization will hire an outside search firm to help the team find a new head of basketball operations. That search will include Sheppard, Leonsis said.

Head coach Scott Brooks has two years remaining on a five-year, $35 million contract signed in 2016. Leonsis informed Brooks of his decision with Grunfeld shortly after the team’s Monday practice.

“Well, right now all I’ve done is remove Ernie from the day-to-day. I’ve asked Tommy to take all the direct reports that would go into Ernie and he’ll report to me. I’ve spent one-on-one time with Scott just to tell him I expect us to do, work hard and play hard and continue to give the fans their money’s worth,” Leonsis said.

The major front office change also alters the team’s flow of information. Removing the team president opens the lines of communication with the others in the organization. Leonsis said he intends to use this change to open the dialogue with members of the organization in pursuit of fixes.

“We entered the year with the fourth highest payroll in the league. We could end up with the fourth-worst record in the league,” Leonsis said. “There’s a misalignment there and that all contributed here to did we do the right thing. … But right now, we’re kind of looking at it as we’re starting a process. I can’t answer questions as if I know where the process is going to end. I think if I did that would be harmful to what we have to do. If you say to your employees, ‘tell me the truth, tell me everything in an unabashed, straightforward way so that I can learn, but here’s the answer that I want.' I don’t think that makes for a good process.

“So I’ve asked everyone to be candid, tell me what we have to do. I have to be the editor. I have to cull through all of that input. Then time will tell if we processed that information and made the right decision. No one thinks we’re shy about spending money. No one thinks we’re shy about making investments. No one thinks we’re shy about trying to innovate. We just had a big, big issue this year in saying we thought we could win 50 games and we might lose 50 games.”

The fan base repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with Grunfeld and Leonsis throughout the season.

“It shows me that they care,” Leonsis said. “I think that my first message is I apologize for not meeting their expectations. You’ve got to be honest with yourself. … I apologize, but I do think the fan base knows our sincerity in doing what is necessary. Couldn’t spend much more money. Couldn’t have worked harder to open (the St. Elizabeth’s East Entertainment and Sports Arena). Couldn’t have made the investments in analytics that we’ve been making.

“Couldn’t do much more – at least that’s what I thought. Now we’ll do the work and hopefully I’ll be enlightened. We did too much of this and not enough of that. I’m self-actualized to know that I don’t have all the answers and that I should be humbled because we didn’t do well.”


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2020 NBA Draft: Anthony Edwards, far and away, leads the best shooting guard prospects

2020 NBA Draft: Anthony Edwards, far and away, leads the best shooting guard prospects

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is a look at the five best point guard prospects in this year's class and how they would fit with the Wizards with analysis from NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes and Tyler Byrum...

1. Anthony Edwards

Team: Georgia
Age: 18
Height: 6-5
Weight: 225
Wingspan: 6-9

2019/20 stats: 32 G, 19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.6 bpg, 40.2 FG% (6.3/15.8), 29.4 3PT% (2.3/7.7), 77.2 FT%

Player comparison: Victor Oladipo, Donovan Mitchell

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 1st, Sports Illustrated 1st, Ringer 1st, NBADraft.net 1st, Bleacher Report 1st

Fit with Wizards: As a guard that could instantly be thrust into an NBA rotation, the Washington Wizards would not necessarily be the best fit for Edwards. He would still be behind John Wall and Bradley Beal in the lineup and likely only see the court with that duo in a small lineup. However, if the ping-pong balls bounce the way of Washington or somehow he inexplicably falls to the Wizards, they have to take him. 

Of the entire class, is he the best prospect. Not only does he have a high floor, but his upside could have him as a potential franchise player further down the road.

Defensively, he would be a nice addition to their perimeter coverage and would be another big transition threat. Edwards' high motor and physique make him essentially a brick wall for guards to find an opening. 

Scott Brooks' up-tempo offense fits with Edwards' game. And the most enticing element is that Edwards is fine being off the ball. That's exactly what Washington would need with Wall, Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura needing their offensive touches. Edwards would keep defenders honest and draw plenty of attention on every drive in the post. Positionally, he rebounds well and could fill in some gaps on the boards, but he wouldn't address the full team issue. - Byrum


2. Tyrese Maxey

Team: Kentucky
Age: 19
Height: 6-3
Weight: 198
Wingspan: 6-6

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 34.5 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.4 bpg, 42.7 FG% (4.8/11.3), 29.2 3PT% (1.1/3.6), 83.3 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Lowry, less-accurate Tyler Herro

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 12th, Sports Illustrated 10th, Ringer 8th, NBADraft.net 21st, Bleacher Report 13th

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards have to assume they already have their version of Maxey in Bradley Beal and Troy Brown Jr. Playmaking off-the-ball guards who also have a background as facilitators. There are much bigger areas of need for the team, especially in the post, finding a long-term back-up point guard and wing depth. 

None of those holes would be where Maxey would fit on the team. Still, a team can never have too many competent ballhandlers that can score.

Maxey would just add another piece to where Washington already has a strength.

He would be an improvement for the Wizards' defensive efforts. Maxey has a high basketball IQ that makes him a phenomenal off-ball defender. However, he is limited in how he cannot guard well enough outside of the guard position. 

Like many of the other top-end lottery prospects, he could likely contribute from day one and make the roster for the new season. Assuming Beal and John Wall are relied on in the same capacity from Scott Brooks though, Maxey would be buried down the depth chart. A lot of his offensive upside is dependent on his touches because his numbers don't exactly jump off the page. Washington would likely want him to shore up his shooting motion as well before giving him meaningful minutes.

If the Wizards are picking ninth or higher, there really doesn't appear to be a scenario where they take the Kentucky SG. There are just too many other immediate needs that can be addressed. - Byrum



3. RJ Hampton

Team: New Zealand Breakers
Age: 19
Height: 6-5
Weight: 185
Wingspan: 6-7

2019/20 stats: 15 G, 20.6 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.3 bpg, 40.7 FG% (3.3/8.2), 29.5 3PT% (0.9/2.9), 67.9 FT%

Player comparison: Dante Exum, O.J. Mayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 13th, Sports Illustrated 14th, Ringer 12th, NBADraft.net 17th, Bleacher Report 12th

Fit with Wizards: Hampton is one of the several point/ combo guards whose talent level has them scattered around the first round. Hampton is not among the top tier of guards in this year's class but does offer a mid-round option for a team to take a chance on a playmaker that already has shooting fundamentals. 

Of course, the Wizards are not in need of a two-guard whose role would just be limited to Bradley Beal's backup. Hampton does not have the positional flexibility to fill into other roles and is too small to space the court with John Wall and Beal at the same time. 

Likely he is a depth piece, which is not what Washington needs with their first-round pick. Even from a preparedness level, Hampton might need a year or two to fully develop into his frame and to improve his shooting numbers.

Given his inaccuracies, his hip injury and limited NBL success, drafting Hampton does not appear to be a smart move for the Wizards with the uncertainty on how he will project out. 

That is not to say Hampton cannot be a successful pro. The Nuggets took a similar chance on Michael Porter Jr., who was coming off a back injury when he was drafted in 2018, and is now a formidable bench piece of their team. Both Porter and Hampton saw marginal success and tough injuries in the year before the draft. They also are highly regarded high school prospects that are well known among the scouting community. 

Hampton may not be a quick answer for the upcoming season. However, the Wizards could see him becoming a key bench piece in the future. -Byrum


4. Jahmi'us Ramsey

Team: Texas Tech
Age: 18 (turns 19 in June)
Height: 6-4
Weight: 195
Wingspan: 6-6

2019/20 stats: 27 G, 31.2 mpg, 15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, 44.2 FG% (5.5/12.4), 42.6 3PT% (2.2/5.2), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Sam Dekker, less explosive Donovan Mitchell

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 20th, Sports Illustrated 22nd, Ringer 18th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report N/A

Fit with Wizards: Some see Ramsey filling into a variety of roles for a team, as a point guard, shooting guard or a smaller wing. This could be encouraging for the Wizards wanting to invest in a player that possesses versatility and is still young enough to mold into a system.

The depth of the guard/ wing combination is slowly growing for Washington. The team has added Troy Brown Jr., Jerome Robinson, Ish Smith and Isaac Bonga over the past couple of seasons. Ramsey would be on the smaller end of that depth chart but provide shooting and solid positional defense. Even in his first year, he would push for minutes against that group. 

What makes him more enticing than perhaps other prospect options around his draft stock is his 3-point ability. Every team needs a bench perimeter option to provide a spark, as he would be unlikely to be in a small lineup alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. 

His youth will allow the Wizards to get younger as well as the team only has two rostered players under 22. And while Ramsey is young he is a more than capable defender. He can generate new possessions off of steals and even blocked shots against his matchups. 

Ramsey would be a part of a development plan for Washington and could be an integral piece when it comes to building their future.  - Byrum


5. Josh Green

Team: Arizona
Age: 19 (turns 20 in November)
Height: 6-6
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 6-10

2019/20 stats: 30 G, 30.9 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 42.4 FG% (4.1/9.6), 36.1 3PT% (1.0/2.8), 78.0 FT%

Player comparison: Kelly Oubre Jr.

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, Sports Illustrated 24th, Ringer 19th, NBADraft.net 19th, Bleacher Report 20th

Fit with Wizards: As with many mid-first-round prospects, Green could slide into a roster as a 3-point shooting wing with a strong defensive game. Both fill needs on either side of the court for Washington. 

Wizards fans will be quite familiar with Green's skill set as it matches former Washington Wizard Kelly Oubre Jr. He naturally gravitates away from the perimeter, though, and often finds himself open in the post, leading to several opportunities at the rim. Backdoor cuts and slashes are a huge element of his game.

As a player that knows his role within a system, that could fit into the culture that general manager Tommy Shepard is trying to build. Rui Hachimura is another example of a player that plays within his means and can compliment other stars on the court. The multiple layers of his game make him a more valuable offensive commodity overall than other prospects around his level.

Of course, Washington would need Green to take more threes than he did with Arizona. His role would be more one-dimensional. With John Wall, Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura, the Wizards have plenty of players that will occupy the paint and need space to get to the basket. The second unit could be where that element fits his game. 

Green would go well in Washington - and checks off some boxes for the front office - but there are other players in the mid-to-late first round that are a better plug and play options.  - Byrum


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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

While protests continue across the country following the death of George Floyd, the world's biggest sports figures, including Michael Jordan and LeBron James, have used their platforms to make it clear where they stand on the numerous social issues fueling the protests.

You can now add the Washington Wizards to that group. Early Monday morning, the Wizards posted a "united statement" on social media in response to Floyd's death and the protests that have followed.

Included in the post are four separate statements.

"We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country."

"We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement."

"We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color."

"We will no longer shut up and dribble."

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura were among players to share the same statements on Instagram.