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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