July 20, 2012 Reaction To Ted Leonsis Interview With Washington Post Columnist Mike Wise
Last night, Washington Post columnist Mike Wise released the full transcript of a 45-minute interview he had earlier this week with Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. There were many interesting tid bits of information in this piece and Ted was extremely candid in his responses to Wise’s questioning addressing coaching hires, the growth of John Wall, new types of technology the Wizards are using and, of course, the amnesty of Andray Blatche. After taking the time to read the interview I have prepared a few thoughts on some of the comments, as well as others pertaining to the Wizards, made by Leonsis.
Additions to the coaching staff:
The addition of Don Newman to the bench as an assistant coach is a major move towards the Wizards going from bottom-feeder to competitive NBA franchise in the eyes of Leonsis. As he put it “Part of the rolling the stone up the hill is changing the culture and going from losing to winning. We have to make the investments in scouting and all the little things – coaching, player development.” Leonsis followed this up by hinting that the Wizards weren’t done adding to the coaching staff noting that there should be more news coming out concerning the hiring of assistant’s to Randy Wittman as well as shooting coaches to help nurture some of our younger players games. One thing that stuck out to me while reading this transcript was how much emphasis Leonsis has placed on giving the investments he has made in our roster everything they need in order to be successful.
Importance of Nene to the team:
Leonsis was very up-front with Wise as to how pleased he has been with the acquisition of Nene. “Nene, he’s a really good player, he’s a really good person and he’s a really good leader. And he is happy to be here. We bonded. That was important.” He goes on to note how great of a job Nene has done in helping mentor the Wizards breakout performer from 2011-2012, Kevin Seraphin, up until this point. As we have all seen by now Seraphin took a major step forward in his development last season once Wittman took the helm, with the type of knowledge of the NBA game that Nene could provide to Seraphin this could be a major benefit to the French National Team member as his professional career continues to evolve.
On the Rashard Lewis trade:
Much like he was with the Gilbert Arenas trade, Leonsis was extremely impressed in Ernie Grunfeld’s ability to deal Rashard Lewis and the $23,ooo per minute played for the Wizards last year for two rotation players in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. “We took the second-highest-paid player in the league…and replaced him with two players that will play big minutes who each averaged 10-15 points a game. We were getting 0 from Rashard.” I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more. Even though there are still some people who are not happy with the trade Grunfeld was able to secure the Wizards something for essentially the paper that Rashard Lewis’ max contract was written on. We may not all love Grunfeld’s draft record but if there is something that we can all agree on it is his ability to be a shrewd negotiator when it comes to trades with other franchises.
On the development of John Wall:
Naturally, Ted had a plethora of thoughts on the development of the Wizards franchise player, John Wall, as he heads into year three of his NBA career. Leonsis is of the opinion, which is shared by most fans, that the best has yet to come for Wall and his third season with the Wizards should be the next step in his path to becoming an All-NBA level PG. “John has a lot of upside still in his game. Compare his stats the first two years in the league against the stars guards and point guards in the league — Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Rondo — he compares favorably with them. So this is an important year for John.”
This is clearly what every Wizards fan hopes is the case. Wall needs to continue to improve upon his game in a major way going into this season in order to solidify himself as one of the leagues premier floor generals. The strong veteran presence he now has surrounding him along with a very impressive draft pick Beal should lend Wall the chance to fully realize the vast potential that is evident in his game. This is the year where all those other guards that Leonsis compared John Wall’s first two seasons to broke up and became the stars that they are today, it’s time for Wall to step up to the plate and be the leader and cornerstone of this franchise that we all believe he can be.
On whether next season is Playoffs or bust:
Leonsis has been quoted on multiple occasions as saying that he does not plan on being back in the NBA Draft Lottery next season. I would venture to say that all Wizards fans want this to be the case come the end of April in 2013. Wise used this quotation to pose the question of whether or not jobs would be on the line were the Wizards to fall short of that goal. “I won’t be happy with our plan if we’re back in the lottery . . . If we just miss making a playoff spot, no, the world is not going to end. If we’re picking third because we have the second-worst record, no, I will not be happy.”
Leonsis clearly wants to see marked improvement from his franchise as they move into the third, and according to Leonsis and Grunfeld, final year of the “rebuild”. Should the Wizards lay an egg next season and once again finish towards the bottom of the NBA I would have to imagine there will be some wholesale changes going on throughout different levels of the franchise. I am not going to be the ignorant fan whose expectations are so lofty that the team will potentially fall short of said goals. The Wizards will without a doubt be a better, more competitive team than they were last season. Will that translate into being one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference? I am not sure, but with the addition made at the trade deadline last year and the moves Grunfeld has completed in the off-season thus far there is reason for hope that the Wizards will once again return to playing competitive, winning basketball.
On new technologies utilized in scouting and developing talent:
This was news to me, apparently the Wizards have made some large investments in the technological side of the franchise. One proponent of this is a man by the name of Joe Sill and according to Leonsis, Sill has quite the impressive resume. “Joe presents on occasion at that stats thing at MIT. Double-math PHd. He’s almost like a technical trader on Wall St. I can pick a company you should invest in. He’ll never meet the CEO, but he knows from the numbers which ones to pick.” Must be nice right? This isn’t to say that the Wizards are attempting to become the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s but as Leonsis later mentions, “there is a big, big role in informing some decisions.”
Just to throw out a couple of particulars that Leonsis used to help prove this point; The Wizards defensive rebounding totals went up “dramatically” when Nene was acquired for Javale McGee, specifically the amount of rebounds that Wizards guards were reeling in. “ If your forwards are pushing their men out, that’s not a stat. That’s something you follow. That means the guards have the opportunity to get the rebounds and initiate their own break.” Hard to argue with that point at all.
Also worth noting, the Wizards are one of the few teams in the NBA that have installed HD super heat-seeking missile cameras. Yes, that’s right, we are using heat-seeking missile cameras to track our players while on the court. According to Leonsis, “This thing creates real-time heat maps. Literally you can get down to the pixels on the floor. Where are the shots being taken, where are the shots being made, where are the picks being made. It does interesting things like, how many dribbles on a fast break does your guard hold the ball before he dishes off, and was their a good shot made versus other guards in the league.” This kind of asset will go an extremely long way when it comes to player development, especially when utilized it practice sessions.
The ability to tell a guard that by dribbling two less times before making a pass that he would be 70% more likely to convert said opportunity is a fantastic teaching tool. It shouldn’t be overly surprising that a man who made the majority of his riches with AOL would be well ahead of the curve when it comes to the use of different technologies and how they can be used as teaching mechanisms in sports. I couldn’t agree with Leonsis more when he says, “Bringing in these analytics, bringing in high IQ, good people it’s all a part of trying to change a losing culture to a winning culture,” and a winning culture is what we need to re-establish here in the district.
On retaining Randy Wittman as head coach:
Wise plugged away at Leonsis’ decision to retain GM Ernie Grunfeld as well as head coach Randy Wittman with the Wizards organization. In response, Leonsis mentioned how he handled the exit interviews with all of the Wizards players and one of the questions he asked each and every Wizards player was their thoughts on how Wittman had done as their head coach. Leonsis noted that before he could even pose the question to Nene he was met with an extremely positive endorsement of Wittman. “Before I could ask the question, Nene was, ‘I played for a lot of coaches in the league. This is a really good coach. I really like how he treated me. I really like he taught the team. I think he works really good. I like him. I trust him. He’s authentic.’”
John Wall shared similar sentiments with Leonsis when it was time for his exit interview. “Then John Wall came in and said, ‘I know you want to bring a big-name coach in. I think you have a coach who can help me. I think the coach is doing a great job. So please keep Randy.’” Yet another endorsement from one of the teams marquee players.
Finally, Leonsis noted how Kevin Seraphin reacted to the question about Wittman during his exit interview. “Hey, he believed in me. He let me play. He developed my game. He yells at me. I like when he yells at me. Because he’s right when he yells at me.”
Needless to say, Randy Wittman had left a mark on this roster during his time as the Wizards interim head coach. These types of endorsements from the teams core players surely made the decision to retain Wittman as the Wizards permanent head coach an easy one for Leonsis and Grunfeld.
On the amnesty of Andray Blatche:
The obvious elephant in the room would center around none other than the decision to use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche. Despite Leonsis’ belief that people deserve second and third chances in life this was a business decision that quite frankly had to be made. There were worries over where Blatche fit in with the lineup as it was currently constructed as well as the fact that he was the final holdover from the Gilbert Arenas era Wizards.
Wise pressed forward by asking Leonsis how he felt now about the extension that was given to Blatche in 2010 when compared to his quotes from two years ago where he repeatedly said how he felt signing Blatche to an extension was a great idea. Leonsis, resigned to the fact that the deal was a mistake had the following reply; “Yes — we made a mistake — although the NBA has had close to $250 million of amnestied players to date — sometimes you get a chance to take a mulligan under the new rules and that is what we did.”
Leonsis, however, was quick to not place the blame squarely on Blatche’s shoulders,”We are all in it together — so we are all to blame. Buck has to stop with me though as owner.” He went on to state how appreciative he was of Blatche’s apology to the fans and wished him nothing but the best as his career goes on. He did state that the decision to cut Blatche loose with a check for $23 million wasn’t particularly hard as “It was in best interest of franchise.”
All in all this was an extremely impressive interview by Mike Wise and major props need to be given to him for securing the time with Leonsis to ask all of these questions. After reading through this transcript, and sleeping on all the information taken in, I am even more excited for this upcoming season of Wizards basketball than I was before and that in and of itself is nothing short of a miracle as I am quite the WizKids fanatic.