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Wizards’ Ted Leonsis on GM search: We have to play the long game

Wizards’ Ted Leonsis on GM search: We have to play the long game

Only owner Ted Leonsis knows what current plans the Washington Wizards have cooked up in their President of Basketball Operations search.

That, more than waiting, is the angsty problem for all on the outside.

Feel the way you feel, but understand the wait by itself is not really the issue even with the NBA Draft three weeks away and movement happening elsewhere around the league. The last guy had this job for 16 years. The next hire likely won’t last a decade-plus, but if around for several years’ worth of drafts, free agency and other vital decisions, waiting another couple of weeks should not matter big picture.

That’s especially true if the result of patience means a good hire.

Granted, imagining that positive result is a tough ask for many right now with the Wizards coming off a 32-50 season.

The man making the ultimate final call wants the fan base to know there’s a purpose to the patience.

Leonsis made his first public comments on the GM search during an exclusive and wide-ranging interview Thursday on the “Wizards Talk” podcast.

“These are multi-billion enterprises now. I’ve invested in, I’ve led, I’ve run other multi-billion franchises. The notion that you would hire a leader [based on] a two-hour interview in business would be scoffed at,” Leonsis said on the podcast. “That’s irresponsible to your shareholders. My intent on this is to be very, very thorough.”

It's worth noting that many league voices including some who at various times were positioned to consider if not accept the job if offered have told NBC Sports Washington they find the Wizards opening attractive based on the long-term opportunity and owner loyalty.

There are also obstacles ahead for the new GM hire far beyond how the Wizards deploy the ninth overall selection in June’s Draft. It’s why the uncertainty is grating. The map-less journey is particularly jarring on the way out and in the dark. The rest of us are riding blind until the Wizards shed light on the matter.

The hope is the man at the helm and those helping navigate spot a viable path forward.

Certainly, downside exists with the current level of patience, which the organization deployed after Denver’s President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly declined Washington’s offer on May 20. The approach began immediately after Leonsis fired longtime executive Ernie Grunfeld on April 2.

Other teams are assembling new front offices and coaching staff while preparing for the rapidly approaching NBA off-season. Pre-draft workouts in Washington begin next week. Free agency fun effectively starts on July 1. The Wizards’ brain trust for these valuable opportunities remains unsettled.

Perhaps Leonsis is big game hunting beyond Connelly. Waiting this long could suggest the target’s team is still playing. Assistant general managers like Golden State’s Larry Harris are typically available to interview during the postseason. Folks running the front offices like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri are not.

NBC Sports Washington reported last month that the Raptors’ President of Basketball Operations had interest in Washington’s situation. There’s no change in that report – though reaching the NBA Finals could alter an individual’s perspective. That counts for Ujiri and Raptors star/2019 free agent Kawhi Leonard.

Rather there’s an emphasis on why luring Ujiri away was considered a long shot from the start and why this matters to any potential home run hire.

Ujiri, the architect behind the 2019 Eastern Conference champion Raptors, receives a substantial salary from Toronto. Reports suggested the Wizards must at least double Connelly’s reported salary of $2 million per year. Based on information provided to NBCSW, landing Ujiri would cost substantially more.

There’s no guarantee Toronto even allows Washington permission to interview its guy. It’s a lock the Raptors would demand compensation for Ujiri to leave.

Other big swing targets exist broadly. Part of the unknown is what kind of lumber the Wizards are bringing to the plate. Considering the tricky situation here, if Washington doesn’t make any potential WOW candidates an offer they can’t refuse, they will.

The hope is the Wizards understand this reality if this type of candidate is behind the waiting.

At least three other candidates met with Leonsis multiple times before the Wizards put the ball in Connelly’s court.

The two outside options – former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver – did not hear back from Washington in the days immediately after Connelly’s decision, according to sources familiar with the situation. Tommy Sheppard, Grunfeld’s no. 2 and the current interim leader, remains in that temporary role.

Should Leonsis announce tomorrow Ferry or Weaver accepted the job, many in the NBA world would likely be asking why the Wizards didn’t make this move a day or two after Connelly passed.

Same with Sheppard, who is perhaps a tougher sell to a frustrated fan base because of his association with Grunfeld. Sheppard is respected in league circles and not considered a mere extension of the previous regime.

As for actually hiring any of three, even with some tricky matters in the case of Ferry, they, would primarily receive overall kudos.

Leonsis did not provide any specifics on previously reported interviews or offer names of additional candidates.

There are many outcomes where waiting proves more annoying than irresponsible. There’s also no guarantee that patience pays off.  Leonsis explained his approach, though the outsiders remain in the dark. One day, in theory, we’ll all see the light and hopefully for fans, the payoff.

“We have to play long-term here and not get that sugar high,” Leonsis said. “Winning the press conference sometimes feels good. Us being able to win a championship will feel a lot better.”


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Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Sixty eight gamers' lives changed on Saturday night. 

One of those very lucky individuals was Jack Mascone, who was selected by Wizards District Gaming with the No.1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft. 

Wizards’ managing partner Ted Leonsis had a special message for the point guard from New York, who joins the Monumental Sports & Entertainment family. 

“On behalf of the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go we’d like to welcome JBM to the Monumental basketball family. Congratulations on your hard work paying off. We’re excited to have you run the District with us,” Leonsis said.

Wizards District Gaming also drafted small forward Justin Howell in the second round, No. 30 overall, small forward Antonio Newman, No. 37, and utility Brandon Richardson at No. 51 in the third round. 


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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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