Storyline: Wizards Front Office

159 rumors in this storyline

Leonsis didn’t stop with Silver. Over the next 3 ½ months, Leonsis said he spoke to 78 people in professional sports and beyond, seeking to learn where he had erred and how he should reconstruct the Wizards into a modern sports organization. He picked the brains of the youngest general manager in the history of major league baseball, a former NFL executive of the year who led his franchise to a Super Bowl win and even the 44th president of the United States. He allowed significant offseason events, including the Wizards’ lottery pick in June’s draft and July’s free agency frenzy, to pass without a hire as speculation and misinformation about potential candidates filled the void. But behind the scenes, Leonsis kept asking questions.

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Leonsis also reached out to someone he considers a friend: former president Barack Obama. Obama has apparently never been shy about giving Leonsis his opinion of the NBA, according to someone with personal insights into their relationship. The two spoke in late April about the importance of building the right culture for the Wizards. Obama championed the “beauty of the game, teamwork, sacrifice” and surrounding franchise stars with complementary pieces. Obama, who has taken on a role with the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League, also encouraged Leonsis to invest in scouting in Africa.

Leonsis also reached out to Popovich. “I talked to Gregg Popovich for 90 minutes. Not about the job. About, ‘Tell me what you’re seeing in the league, tell me about the candidates that I’m talking to, tell me about how you built excellence in your team without breaching any confidence,’ ” Leonsis said. “It was like getting an MBA.” But at no time, according to Leonsis and Forde, did he try to get an audience with Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri.

The Washington Wizards announced today that they have named Johnny Rogers vice president of pro personnel. “Johnny brings tremendous global experience, vast NBA knowledge and great basketball relationships to our franchise,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard. “He is universally respected as a player and executive.” Rogers comes to Washington after spending the last three seasons as director of pro personnel for the Los Angeles Clippers. In this new role, he will oversee NBA and NBA G League scouting as well as the team’s international scouting efforts. Prior to joining the Clippers, Rogers served as a scout for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sports Director for Valencia Basket in Spain.

Sashi Brown understands how he gets to be labeled “the football guy” in Washington Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis’ unorthodox, revamped front office that features three basketball lifers and a longtime soccer trainer who most recently worked in the NBA. After all, Brown’s highest-profile and most recent job before joining the Wizards was serving as either the visionary or overmatched executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns. While Brown isn’t running from and takes pride in his past, attaching an all-encompassing label isn’t all that fair to someone who used his smarts and a lifelong passion for sports to make a remarkable and rapid rise up an NFL that kept providing impossible-to-resist opportunities. It doesn’t fully capture a 43-year-old Harvard law alum who didn’t grow up in Boston limiting his love to just one game — he wanted to be both Darrell Green and Isiah Thomas.

“He’s done a lot of things in the NFL, sure, but the pursuit of putting a team together and having to make decisions on personnel, those are great things,” Leonsis said of Brown. “I think his area of expertise for us won’t necessarily be in personnel or in the basketball decisions, as much as bigger (picture), being a great resource certainly legally and all the other things that he’s done but helping us with technology, helping us with facility management. Those things are going to be humongous. The Cleveland Browns, their practice facility is fantastic, and it wasn’t always that way. He was in there for a great deal of the change, but his intelligence is absolutely something I look forward to partnering with. He’s a great guy to bounce stuff off of. I think you just get a whole room full of really smart people; you can really start to see this energy created.”

And yet, gaming kind of is his day job now. Sheppard, a 50-year-old hoops lifer, was tapped this week to run an esports franchise. In the recent creation of Monumental Basketball, under which the four basketball-related properties owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment will operate, Sheppard has been tasked as the general manager of the Wizards, their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, and most curiously, Wizards District Gaming of the NBA 2K League. Though Sheppard is in discovery mode about his role with the esports franchise, which recently completed its second season in a video game league that has drawn more than 293 million video views across social media platforms, his attention will be mostly focused outside the virtual world.

“The opportunity with basketball with the Wizards, the Go-Go, District Gaming is fantastic to me because if you think about the explosion of esports, that’s something I’m getting my arms around, I can’t wait to be part of it,” Sheppard said of the NBA 2K League, the first professional esports operation run by one of the four major American sports leagues. “But my focus is the Washington Wizards and the Go-Go right now because that is our core business that needs the most help.”

The Wizards have bucked convention by hiring Sashi Brown as their chief operations and planning officer, as he comes from outside the basketball world. He has served as top executive but in the NFL, not in the NBA. Brown and Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis, though, believe there are plenty of skills that will translate. After all, there are many commonalities in running the front office of professional sports teams. They are constructed similarly with executives, scouts, and medical staffs. And the same principles apply to contract negotiations and pitching free agents.

Brown admits it will take some time for him to acclimate to working in a new league, but is confident his experience as a sports executive, in business and as a lawyer will help the Wizards right away. “There is far more that will transfer than I think people would imagine,” he told NBC Sports Washington. “When you have sat in that seat as a GM, the job is so big. These are now billion-dollar enterprises. We’ve got a lot of things that we want to accomplish and you really just can’t have enough talent. That’s what it feels like a lot of days. From technology to strategy to contract and negotiation and league initiatives, but also just operational support; things that we would like to get done day-to-day to be world-class.”
4 weeks ago via ESPN

“I didn’t spend a lot of time with Tommy because of the hierarchy, but I told him: Let me see how you work,” Leonsis told ESPN. “Let me see how you handle the draft. Let me see a strategy document and a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. He came back and said he needed assets and young players, and that we needed to connect the draft to free agency. Our big goal was to get more coachable players that fit a system that the coaches wanted to play, that would get us younger, hungrier players that would be helped by our development coaches. “And Tommy is also a big believer — like us in ownership — that the world is a big place. He’s very fluent in the global view of basketball.”
4 weeks ago via ESPN

Eventually, Leonsis didn’t see Sheppard as the extension of an outdated regime that he ousted, but the unleashing of a progressive mind who understood that the modern duties of a GM required the supporting cast that Leonsis has invested to bring to the franchise. “I like [Sheppard’s] dexterity to be able to deal with the existing NBA, but to also really look at it as a global enterprise,” Leonsis said. “My belief is that you can you do things fast. We have the wherewithal and resources and facilities and technology.

Wizards’ top spot: Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?” Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

On Tuesday, Ted Leonsis released a statement to The Washington Post in which he shared the plan to take his time in forming the franchise’s new leadership team. Leonsis also denied reports that the Wizards pursued Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, who constructed the roster that won the NBA championship last week. Tommy Sheppard, who has led the Wizards’ basketball operations on an interim basis for the past 11 weeks, will continue in the role through Thursday’s NBA draft and the start of free agency, which begins June 30.

The Wizards are preparing a six-year, $60 million offer for Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources tell The Athletic’s Fred Katz and David Aldridge. Washington has been waiting on Ujiri since mid-May and did not want to make an official run at him until the Raptors’ playoff run ended. Owner Ted Leonsis plans to request permission from Toronto sometime soon. The Raptors won their first title in franchise history when they defeated the Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Michael Grange: MLSE owner Larry Tanenbaum when asked about @wojespn report that Wizards owner @TedLeonsis is attempting to recruit Masai Ujiri with a $10-million a year offer and an ownership stake:

2 months ago via ESPN

The Washington Wizards are preparing to offer Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a deal that could approach $10 million annually and deliver him the opportunity for ownership equity, league sources tell ESPN. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is expected to reach out to Toronto ownership soon to request formal permission to meet with Ujiri and offer a staggering financial package that would include running the Wizards basketball operations and, perhaps, taking on a larger leadership role in the Monumental Sports and Entertainment company that oversees the Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, league sources said.

Earlier this spring, Forde was also the search-firm consultant for the Pelicans, who ended up hiring David Griffin in April to run their front office. Two of the other finalists in New Orleans were Langdon and Harris. Both interviewed. The Pels loved Langdon, according to sources at the time, and those sources must’ve known what they were talking about since the Pels eventually hired him as Griffin’s No. 2. Harris also apparently impressed during his interview. Forde was there guiding the Pels through all of it. And so comes a logical follow-up question: Why were Langdon and Harris viable candidates for the actual job in New Orleans but not ones for interviews in Washington? The Wizards haven’t hit up either for interviews, according to sources. Maybe they didn’t like the fit. Maybe Leonsis wasn’t as impressed, for whatever reason.

Josh Kroenke on why the Nuggets allowed Connelly to interview with the Wizards: That’s part of Tim and my relationship. To say you trust someone is one thing, but to actually trust someone is a different thing. Tim and I had private conversations as part of our contract-extension talks several months ago. Just because Tim was signing a contract extension with us didn’t mean his thoughts from his childhood and different thoughts from earlier in his career would simply go away.

While they have yet to formally agree to a new contract, Kroenke told Connelly that he was “willing to do what it takes to keep you,” said a person with details of the communication. If Connelly had left, the Nuggets were planning to turn over the franchise to General Manager Artūras Karnišovas and felt confident doing so, but they are “thrilled” and “breathing a sigh of relief” that it didn’t come to that, according to a person who shared details of Denver’s thinking.

Tim Connelly will not take over as the Washington Wizards’ president of basketball operations, as many league insiders had expected. He will instead remain with the Denver Nuggets, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking. Connelly was in Washington on Friday to meet with majority owner Ted Leonsis. As the president of the Nuggets’ basketball operations, Connelly did not want to formally interview. He did not visit Capital One Arena or the team’s practice facility in Southeast Washington, several people with knowledge of the meeting said. Connelly instead discussed the Wizards’ job at Leonsis’s residence.
3 months ago via t.co

Tim Connelly, the Denver Nuggets’ president of basketball operations, is also in Chicago this week and has been linked to the Wizards opening. He’s even spoken with Mike Forde, the adviser assisting Leonsis with the franchise reset, according to a person close to the situation. Forde is integral to the hiring process, sitting in on interviews alongside the Wizards owner. Connelly has not met with Leonsis, however, and there is no interview scheduled. Connelly’s ties to the organization are intricate. He’s from West Baltimore and got his start with the Wizards under Grunfeld. While people close to Connelly said Washington is the only job that could lure the 41-year-old out of Denver — a fact even known by Nuggets team executive Josh Kroenke — those who know Connelly also indicate he does not wish to interview for the position.
3 months ago via t.co

On Wednesday, Danny Ferry had a second audition for the job with majority team owner Ted Leonsis, according to people familiar with the team’s actions. Ferry, a 52-year-old former NBA player and longtime league executive who grew up in Bowie, Md., remains in the mix as the potential replacement with the most experience after serving as the head of several other organizations. Ferry’s father, Bob, was also the Washington Bullets’ general manager from 1973 to 1990 and guided the franchise to its only NBA championship in 1978.

Arenas was right. Although the fine slip went to Ernie Grunfeld, the former Wizards president of the basketball operations who had the final say on such matters, no financial punishment was taken. This was not an isolated incident. For the past decade, the Wizards have not always held players accountable, a problem the next president of basketball operations might find difficult to uproot. “When I was there, the culture really wasn’t set,” said Brendan Haywood, who played the first 8½ years of his NBA career in Washington, from 2001-10. “There was never a set place [or] plan of: ‘Listen, this is what we do here. This is how we go about things here,’ that you sometimes see in other organizations.”

Over several months, The Washington Post conducted interviews with 23 people closely associated with the Wizards franchise: current and former players, team staffers who have spent years in Washington and high-level executives across the NBA. They were asked for their interpretation of the Wizards’ team culture, and in those interviews, a revealing portrait came into focus, offering possible insight into Washington’s struggles to build a contender. Grunfeld, who spent 16 years as team president before being fired April 2, was described as clever and precise but also a pushover, allowing players to dictate their own rules. In seeking to create freedom for his players, particularly stars, he overlooked slight transgressions with the same patience that had been afforded to him by two tolerant owners.

Ted Leonsis, the founder of Monumental Sports & Entertainment which owns the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, is regarded as a savvy and respected businessman in NBA ownership circles and even described as a “top-tier” owner by one peer. However, Leonsis also is viewed as waiting too long to step in and make significant changes while also spending too much money on trying to form a “big three” with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. when he should have recognized personality conflicts that undermined that plan.

Several people with knowledge of the Wizards’ front office said that if a player broke one of the team rules, a fine or suspension would be recommended to Grunfeld, but they said they believe Grunfeld did not approve many of the punishments issued at Arenas while most of the fines directed at other players went through. Even lesser lights received star treatment. Haywood recalled a time when Andray Blatche, who played in Washington from 2005-2012, refused to lift weights. Grunfeld’s solution: deputize the strength coach to force Blatche into the weight room. Haywood, who witnessed this interaction, said such enforcement should be Grunfeld’s job. “I said: ‘That’s where you come in,’” Haywood said. Grunfeld “didn’t like the fact that I said that and kind of thought I was abrasive at the time and didn’t like it.” “[A player] basically gets to do whatever he wants to without any repercussions,” Haywood said of the Wizards. “That’s the culture.”

Windhorst went on to say that the new Wizards’ GM will work in an ideal environment under majority owner, Ted Leonsis. “I think one of the things I could say about Ted Leonsis that would be the highest praise for him, he’s a curious owner. What I mean by that is that he’s willing to invest in new opportunities, invest in new strategies and technologies, but he’s not an overbearing owner. He’s shown great willingness to give his front office space to work,” Windhorst said. “That’s the ideal owner in today’s NBA: Someone who will invest but someone who will not stare over your shoulder, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s an attractive job.”

Consider Ujiri a significant long shot despite his attraction to the market, which comes in part to viewing Washington as a larger platform for the “Basketball Without Borders” program. Ujiri serves as director of the program that sponsors various basketball camps and coaching clinics in his native Africa. His wife also grew up in the D.C. area. Ujiri, 48, joined Toronto in 2013 and signed an extension in 2016. The Raptors are unlikely to let Ujiri interview for any current opening, including the Lakers’, according to a league source. The Los Angeles position opened when Magic Johnson abruptly resigned during the final week of the regular season, but the Lakers are not expected to fill the vacancy.

Sources tell NBC Sports Washington that personal considerations make the idea of returning to the area attractive for Connelly. One source described Connelly’s interest with the Wizards’ opening as his “dream job,” but also cautioned a possible change of heart considering the Nuggets’ contender status and positioning in the Western Conference going forward. Ferry, the former DeMatha star and 13-year NBA veteran previously served as general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks. Ferry’s father, Bob, served as general manager for the Washington Bullets’ 1978 NBA championship team.

Beal would be eligible for a “super-max” extension — a projected four-year, $194 million deal that would add onto the two years he has remaining on his current contract — if he makes an All-NBA team following this season. Whether he would accept it or not is the question of the moment, given the 32-49 Wizards’ uncertain management and current standing. And thus, the question for Beal, who has already made $90 million in his career and will earn plenty more whether he makes All-NBA or not, isn’t about the dollars. It’s about the future. “It’s, what are we gonna do here moving forward?” he said. “It starts with getting a new GM and building up our team this summer. I’ll definitely give it a lot of thought. It’s not an easy decision. It’s not a simple one, either. So, (it’s a) game of chess this summer.”

Ferry, who is currently the Pelicans’ interim GM, wants the Wizards job, according to multiple sources with knowledge of his thought process. And why wouldn’t he? He’s from Washington and is a DeMatha alum. His father, Bob, was a two-time Executive of the Year who built the Bullets’ 1978 championship team. Ferry ran the Cavaliers for half a decade and — aside from Griffin — might have the strongest on-paper résumé of anyone else on this list. He can take credit for that ‘starless,’ 2015 Hawks team that won 60 games and downed the Wizards in the second round of the playoffs. But he hasn’t been able to find a full-time GM gig after his stint with the Hawks ended because of racially insensitive comments he made about Luol Deng on a conference call.

The man who hopes to be the Washington Wizards’ next team president listens to Nipsey Hussle so he can better relate to the millennials in the locker room. He takes the Metro to his Southeast Washington office and jets to Italy to discover international prospects. He studies body language to understand why a player might be in a shooting slump, teaches a sports industry management class at Georgetown and often calls Bradley Beal’s father just to check up on him. Tommy Sheppard has become the team’s interim president of basketball operations, elevated to the top job after Ernie Grunfeld’s dismissal Tuesday. Sheppard, 50, has held several titles in the NBA over the course of half of his life and long worked alongside Grunfeld, whom the fan base grew to loathe for his personnel decisions over 16 years. But the man simply known around the league as Tommy has largely labored behind the scenes.

The next architect of the Washington Wizards will inherit a long list of complications, from an injured star to a below-average roster to an embattled coach. Even so, league executives firmly believe that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis will have no shortage of experienced, high-quality candidates as he seeks to replace Ernie Grunfeld, who was fired Tuesday after a 16-year tenure. This relative optimism stems from two major factors: respect for Leonsis as a deep-pocketed, engaged and patient owner; and a belief that the Wizards’ position is clearly superior to other vacant jobs with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans because of the organization’s stability and resources.
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August 19, 2019 | 1:43 am EDT Update