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What does Tommy Sheppard's month-long (and running) interview mean for Wizards future?

What does Tommy Sheppard's month-long (and running) interview mean for Wizards future?

Here’s what makes Tommy Sheppard a potential front runner for the Washington Wizards’ open general manager job.

He’s already making calls from inside the Wizards house.

Thursday marks one month since Wizards owner Ted Leonsis fired longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld and named Sheppard, the team’s VP of Basketball Operations, the interim head of the front office.

While outside candidates are stopping by for interviews, Sheppard is running the show, in what is essentially a one month (and counting) job interview.

Danny Ferry, Troy Weaver and Gersson Rojas all interviewed with the organization this week, according to reports. That means perhaps a couple of hour’s worth of face time with Leonsis.

The scouts and staff on the payroll are not sitting around idle ahead of the June 20 NBA Draft. The new guy in charge who’s interviewed for other GM jobs and patiently waited a decade-plus for a shot is minding the store.

The Wizards scouted the Portsmouth Invitational, the annual showcase for seniors entering the professional ranks. From this player pool and others, Washington will invite players for formal workouts as the organization searches for Summer League additions, G-League hopefuls and, ideally, talents eventually worthy of a training camp invitation.

The NBA world heads to Chicago mid-May. The inaugural three-day G-League Elite Camp tips off a week that includes the draft lottery and the Combine.

That’s plenty of scouting and interviewing players ranging from elite talents to hopefuls. The Wizards aren’t waiting for the last second before preparing. They've also made a few minor roster moves already.

Ahead of their final day of the regular season, Washington retained two-way contract guard Jordan McRae with a one-year, NBA contract, and signed G-League guard Tarik Phillip for the 2019-20 season. 

The team took swift action last month by announcing it would not bring back Devin Robinson for a third year with the organization following the forward’s arrest outside a D.C. nightclub. No individual’s name appeared shown in the brief statement announcing the decision, but someone made the final judgment.

For the first time in 16 years with Washington, Sheppard, who entered the NBA in 1994 on the public relations side, is the (interim) front man.

Shortly after the front office change, NBC Sports’ NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh wrote, “The Wizards have made it clear: They don’t see Sheppard as Ernie 2.0.”

Several league sources outside the organization echoed that take.

“I can easily separate Tommy from Ernie,” a prominent NBA agent told NBC Sports Washington. “Tommy had a job to do. He did it, but he’s his own man.”

Moving Sheppard into the lead role would put greater emphasis on analytics and other innovative methods. The Wizards routinely traded away second-round picks under Grunfeld. There’s a sense a full 180-degree turn could occur under Sheppard with Washington aggressively seeking out second-round selections under the right circumstances.

Whether at work or elsewhere, Sheppard’s greatest strength lies in his relationships.

“I love Tommy Sheppard. I don’t have one bad thing to say,” former Wizards center Marcin Gortat told NBC Sports Washington.

Gortat, effectively speaking for numerous sources from across all aspects of the league, spent five seasons in Washington before a trade last summer to the Los Angeles Clippers. During that time, the veteran center developed a strong bond with Sheppard, who made trips overseas during the off-season to Gortat’s basketball camps in Poland.

“Positive, very encouraging,” Gortat said of his pre-game and general interactions with Sheppard. “He would ask about (your interests) because he was always interested not only about you as a basketball player but a human being.”

Gortat also revealed Sheppard could play the heavy when needed.

Anyone that follows the 6-foot-11 Gortat on social media knows he’s not afraid to challenge Twitter trolls when they enter his space. But it was Sheppard who told him to tone it down when necessary.

“[Tommy] was the only one who would come to me and really raise his voice and yell at me. ‘What the hell are you doing? This is too much!’” Gortat said.

Gortat appreciated Sheppard’s straightforward nature in these spots.

“That’s when I really respected him. He didn’t (sugarcoat). He would come to me man to man and tell me the truth,” Gortat said. “An hour later, we’re having lunch, and we’re moving forward. He’s phenomenal dealing with relationships. … Ted Leonsis should definitely look at Tommy Sheppard.”

Presumably, that’s what Leonsis has done for the last month. Sheppard had his formal interview, just like other candidates. Unlike Ferry, Weaver and Rosas, who was hired Wednesday to head the Timberwolves’ front office, Sheppard didn’t leave the meeting and presumably hop on a plane. Well, unless there was a domestic or international prospect to scout. This basketball grinder does that.

As the NBA calendar moves toward the May 14 draft lottery, time is starting to work against the Wizards. Plans must be created, the front office staff organized.

Sheppard is doing both. That’s his job, at least for now.


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Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Just a few weeks ago, the Masai Ujiri-to-D.C. movement was gaining steam quickly. Just moments after Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors began celebrating their NBA Championship, reports began to swirl that the Wizards were prepared to aggressively pursue the GM.

Sources told NBC Sports Washington that there could be the possibility of a sort of mega-deal that went beyond just giving him control of the Wizards. But Wizards owner Ted  Leonsis denied earlier this month that the team had reached out, saying that "we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process."

And on Tuesday, Uriji seemed to make it official that he will stay in Toronto.

"I love it here, my family loves it here. My wife loves it here, which is very important. My kids are Canadians. You want to win more, for me," Ujiri said on Tuesday during his end-of-season press conference.

"Yeah, I can continue to address teams wanting me and all those things. That's a blessing in life," Ujiri said. "For me the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy, and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person. This place has made me grow as a person."

"I identify with this place and I love it. So in my mind, I'm here."

On paper, Ujiri and the Wizards looked to be a good match. Washington could offer him money and control, while also allowing him to work with his "Basketball without Borders" program in D.C.

As NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh explained recently, the Raptors late-season championship run could have messed up the timing and situation that could have lured Ujiri to a new team.

The Wizards made it through the NBA Draft without a new GM, but as July and free agency approach, the search may continue to ramp up.

The answer is still out there, it just may not be Masai Ujiri anymore.


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Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

The Wizards added two pieces during the 2019 NBA Draft that franchise expects to be vital pieces of their future in Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura at No. 9 and Tennessee's Admiral Schofield at No. 42

Before Monday night's 2018-19 NBA Awards ceremony, NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller caught up with the two faces of the franchise, Bradley Beal and John Wall, to see what they thought of the new additions to the squad.

Beal had high praise for Hachimura.

"I didn't know much," Beal said on what he knew about the Gonzaga product prior to the draft. "But from what I've seen watching the draft and things I've seen pre-draft and things like that, he's a monster."

The praise did not stop there. 

"He plays hard, extremely hard," Beal said. "Hopefully, he can have an impact right away." 

While an immediate impact would be beneficial for a Wizards team that could use Hachimura's scoring (he averaged 19.7 points per game at Gonzaga), Beal understands that Hachimura is still a very raw player. After all, he's only been playing basketball for eight years.

"But at the same time, we want him to grow," Beal said on Hachimura. "We know he hasn't been playing too long. But that's something we can build off of and mold him into the player we need him to be. He has tremendous upside, and I'm excited to get going. Hopefully, come September, October he's ready to go."

While Beal may not have known too much about Hachimura, he had followed the other Wizards draft pick, Admiral Schofield, for quite some time. 

"I love his game; I loved him in college," Beal said on Schofield. 

Beal joked about Schofield's body type, wondering whether basketball is the sport the Wizards second-round pick should be playing.

"He's got a football body. He's built like a tight end, wide receiver," Beal said. "I'm definitely happy that we have him, a fellow SEC guy. Him and [Jordan] McRae are going to hit it off. He can shoot, he's athletic, so I'm definitely excited to have him as well."

While Wall did not go into as much detail as Beal about the Wizards draft class, he was just as excited about the two new additions.

"I think it's good," Wall said. "We added some pieces [in the draft], [we'll] see what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

According to head coach Scott Brooks, both Beal and Wall can identify talent very well

"The thing I love about John and Brad: they love the game," Brooks said last week. "You can call them up, there could be high school players, WNBA players, it could be college players, it could be European players, they know them."

"It's like, 'don't you guys have a life?'" Brooks joked.

Wall spent most of his time with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller discussing his Achilles rehab, where he revealed he is going to begin jogging soon. That's a good sign for the Wizards, even though Wall s expected to miss the majority of the 2019-2020 season.

In Hachimura and Schofield, the Wizards got two pieces that are not expected to contribute right away, but also potentially have the ability to do so. Earning high praise from the two most important players on the Wizards' roster is a good start for both of the Wizards 2019 NBA Draft selections.