Ted Leonsis

Wizards’ Michael Winger Talks New Role, Clippers Tenure, Beal, More

Having passed on the opportunity to interview for a general manager role with at least one other NBA team in the past, Michael Winger tells Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times that he had begun to wonder whether he’d get an opportunity to become the lead executive in a front office. That was the impetus for his decision to pursue the job as the Wizards‘ president, a position he officially secured on Thursday.

“Seldom, I think, in pro sports do those opportunities come along where almost all of your boxes, if not all of your boxes, are checked,” Winger said. “And this was I think the rare and supremely fortunate opportunity for somebody like me to check all the boxes: ownership, market, fan base, already a talented team.”

Winger has some familiarity with the Washington area already, as Greif notes. The former Clippers general manager lived in Baltimore during his final year of law school and often visited friends in D.C. during that time.

“I just felt like if I’m ever going to challenge myself, now’s the time and (Wizards owner) Ted (Leonsis) is the right person,” Winger said. “I think D.C. is the right fan base.”

Here’s more from the new Wizards executive on the challenges that await him in D.C. and the six years he spent in Los Angeles as the Clippers’ GM:

  • According to Winger, he achieved most of his goals with the Clippers over the last six years, having helped turn the franchise into a desirable destination for stars. Of course, there’s one notable goal that will go unresolved. “I would have liked to have won one or more championships in the four years that we’ve had Paul (George) and Kawhi (Leonard), but every team that tries to win a championship and doesn’t wishes that they would have won a championship,” Winger told Greif. “I mean, certainly winning at the highest level would have been awesome. What else? That’s really it.”
  • Winger added that he still has full confidence that George and Leonard are a “championship tandem” capable of leading the Clippers to a title: “I believe that to my core that those two guys when healthy can absolutely win a championship, so I’m a little sad that I’m not gonna be there when they finally do.”
  • Most of Winger’s conversations with Leonsis during the interview process focused on a “big-picture vision” for the Wizards rather than on specific roster moves, writes Greif. The plan is to dig deeper into specific plans for the roster once Winger brings in a second executive who will focus exclusively on the Wizards in a GM-type role.
  • Winger said he’s thrilled about the prospect of having Bradley Beal as the cornerstone of Washington’s roster: “His former coaches, his former teammates, they all have extraordinarily high regard for him, and he is unequivocally a superstar. The hardest thing to do in the NBA is acquire a superstar talent and it’s even harder to acquire superstar talent with his level of character. And so, I think it’s an extremely, extremely fortunate starting point. So to me, that’s really exciting to have somebody like Brad on the team.”
  • Winger is confident that Leonsis will “put forth both the resources and the patience” to build the Wizards into an organization with a winning culture, pointing to Leonsis’ work with the NHL’s Washington Capitals as proof of his ability to steward a successful franchise. “It’s just a matter of taking some of those principles, injecting the equivalent of the NBA’s nuances into those principles, and hopefully building something that is sturdy, sound, attracts good players, attracts good staff, keeps good players, keeps good staff, and ultimately wins basketball games,” Winger told Greif.

Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis Not Opposed To Rebuild

New Wizards president Michael Winger will have “carte blanche” to reshape the team’s roster, and owner Ted Leonsis isn’t opposed to a rebuild if that’s what Winger has in mind, a league source tells Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

Leonsis has been rumored to be opposed to tearing down the roster and building through the draft in the past, so this could be a pivot point for the franchise. It will be interesting to see which direction Winger goes.

Winger’s decision-making power won’t be limited to just the Wizards’ roster, as he will have “wide latitude” to reshape the organization’s infrastructure, including the front office and coaching staff, according to Robbins. The 43-year-old had been the Clippers’ GM since 2017.

Both Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic have heard from sources who say Winger will submit a five-year plan to Leonsis that will be updated after every year. Washington’s owner “wanted someone who’d take big swings, in a big market,” according to Aldridge’s source. Leonsis has assured Winger he’s willing to pay the luxury tax if necessary in the future, Aldridge adds.

Winger, who is a lawyer and has an analytics background, is known as a “big-picture” thinker who has extensive experience handling contract and trade negotiations, as well as navigating the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and salary cap, per Robbins and Aldridge.

A source tells Aldridge that Winger isn’t afraid to voice his opinion, as he was one of the few Clippers executives who had reservations about the Paul George trade with the Thunder — which was tied to Kawhi Leonard signing with L.A. as a free agent — because Winger believed the Clippers were giving up too many first-round picks.

Leonsis also owns the NHL’s Washington Capitals, WNBA’s Mystics, and the Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go. Winger will oversee the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go.

Although one report suggested Winger might not hire a No. 2 executive until after the draft and free agency, the team stated the search will be undertaken immediately, and Robbins’ sources inform him that Winger will look to hire someone within the next couple weeks. The new hire will likely have a “relatively traditional basketball background,” per Robbins.

Marc Stein reports (via Twitter) that Thunder vice president of basketball operations Will Dawkins is considered a “strong candidate” for the position. Dawkins worked with Winger for several years in Oklahoma City, Stein notes. Dawkins got his start as an intern with the Thunder in 2008 and has steadily worked his way up in the basketball operations department.

Aldridge believes hiring Winger is a step in the right direction, because it shows Leonsis isn’t satisfied with the status quo. The Wizards have posted five straight losing seasons and haven’t had a 50-win season since 1978/79.

Winger To Have “Carte Blanche” Over Wizards’ Roster

New team president Michael Winger, who had been the Clippers’ GM since 2017, will have “carte blanche” to potentially overhaul the Wizards‘ roster going forward, writes Ava Wallace of The Washington Post.

Winger has been tasked by owner Ted Leonsis to develop an “identity” as well as “setting a fresh direction for the team,” according to Wallace.

Echoing a previous report, Wallace says Winger will hire a “general manager-type figure” to focus solely on the roster, though she suggests that may happen after the draft and free agency. Winger is also responsible for the WNBA’s Mystics and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go, which are owned by Leonsis’ Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company that controls the Wizards.

The veteran executive is expected to be “empowered” to change the team’s coaching staff as well, Wallace reports. However, it sounds unlikely that head coach Wes Unseld Jr. will be going anywhere, at least for now, as he’s a favorite of Leonsis and is well-regarded within the Wizards, sources tell Wallace.

Wallace writes that Winger has a positive reputation amongst work colleagues, who refer to him as a “crucial voice” within the Clippers who is known as a “fair negotiator ready to lead his own organization.” While the 43-year-old didn’t speak to the media as a Clippers executive, Wallace hears he’s a “strong internal communicator” who’s adept at breaking down advanced concepts, including aspects of the CBA, into “layman’s terms.”

He’s really good at seeing the whole board,” one executive who has worked with Winger told Wallace. “He’s super organized and really smart. Process-driven to the nth degree. He won’t be reckless or let his team make big mistakes.”

Southeast Notes: Heat, Wizards, Leonsis, Hawks

Ahead of a 138-122 Game 2 loss against the Bucks, necessity dictated that the Heat use a rare starting five, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Starting shooting guard Tyler Herro has been ruled out for the next four-to-six weeks after breaking the ring and middle fingers of his right hand, so head coach Erik Spoelstra had to make a change.

Miami started its 27th different five-man lineup of 2022/23, with Gabe Vincent running the point, Duncan Robinson in for Herro at shooting guard, Max Strus at small forward, Jimmy Butler at the four, and Bam Adebayo manning the middle. Though Robinson was inserted into the starting lineup due to his three-point shooting acumen, he only scored in fourth quarter garbage time with the contest already out of hand.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • After the Wizards fired team general manager Tommy Sheppard yesterday, David Aldridge of The Athletic believes Washington’s path back to contention must start with the club admitting it needs to embrace a full rebuild. Aldridge believes that team owner Ted Leonsis needs to look to add a starry front office name, with Raptors vice chairman Masai Ujiri and Warriors president Bob Myers at the top of his list.
  • Letting Sheppard go was a surprisingly proactive move from Leonsis, who had just inked Sheppard to an extension at the start of the Wizards‘ 2021/22 season, writes Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. Buckner is less optimistic that poaching Ujiri or Myers from their respective gigs would work, but is excited that Leonsis is receptive to such a key change at a position that has stewarded the Wizards to zero play-in appearances in the last two years. In a terse press statement, Leonsis indicated that he would look outside the organization for a new top executive.
  • Though the Hawks have lost to the Celtics by 13 points per game in a series they trail 2-0 and may be headed for a sweep, Jeff Schultz of The Athletic writes that the experience is still preferable to tanking. Beyond the marginal difference in selecting a draft pick right outside of the lottery and choosing one around its fringes, new head coach Quin Snyder believes the playoff series will have value as a teachable moment for a generally young Atlanta club. “Similar to the regular season, close games, the more you’re in those situations, you learn from them, and in the playoffs you’re learning to adjust to situations by how a team plays you,” Snyder said. “There’s the physicality of the playoffs, so many things you take from it. The experience is an indirect benefit of the playoffs.”

Wizards Fire GM Tommy Sheppard

Tommy Sheppard has been dismissed as general manager and president of the Wizards, the team announced in a press release. The move comes after another disappointing season for Washington, which compiled a 35-47 record and failed to qualify for the play-in tournament.

Sheppard, 53, had been with the organization since 2003, starting as vice president of basketball operations. He had served as GM since 2019 when he was promoted to replace Ernie Grunfeld. He received an extension and a promotion to president of basketball operations after the club got off to a strong start in 2021/22.

The Wizards never won more than 35 games in a season under Sheppard’s tenure and they reached the playoffs just once, advancing through the play-in tournament in 2021 before losing to the Sixers in the first round.

“Failure to make the playoffs the last two seasons was very disappointing to our organization and our fans,” owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement explaining the move (Twitter link from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski).

Sheppard’s departure means someone else will handle key financial decisions in what should be an important summer for Washington. Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are both expected to turn down their player options for next season and test free agency, although Porzingis is involved in extension talks with the team.

The new GM will also try to improve on Sheppard’s performance in the draft, as Washington holds the No. 8 spot heading into next month’s lottery.

Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon and Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are names to watch as the Wizards launch their search for Sheppard’s replacement, tweets Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

The front office shakeup won’t affect Wes Unseld Jr., who just completed his second season as head coach, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), who hears from sources that Leonsis remains a strong supporter of Unseld.

Southeast Notes: Highsmith, Butler, W. Carter, Wizards

It has been a good week for Heat forward Haywood Highsmith so far. He had his best game of the season on Wednesday in Boston, matching a career high with 16 points while chipping in eight rebounds, a pair of blocks, and a career-best four 3-pointers.

Additionally, by remaining on the Heat’s roster through Thursday, Highsmith saw his partial guarantee increase to $700K, tweets Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. Highsmith, whose full salary for the 2022/23 season is $1,752,638, will have that entire amount guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before January 7.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • With Jimmy Butler – upgraded to questionable for Friday’s game – on the verge of making his return for the Heat following a seven-game absence, head coach Erik Spoelstra remains confident that better days are ahead for the sub-.500 club, writes Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Even on that (Nov. 16-21) road trip, when we were 0-4, we showed incredible resiliency,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s when I started to think, ‘Alright, we’ve got something here, we do.’ Our record may be this, but we’re developing some requisite toughness, some collective grit, some collective resiliency to be able to deal with runs and deal with crowds, deal with all that kind of stuff.”
  • Magic center Wendell Carter Jr., who has been out since November 18 due to a right plantar fascia strain, told Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday that he hopes to return in a week or two. Price cautions that Carter’s timeline remains fluid and will ultimately depend on how the foot responds to treatment.
  • Billionaire Jeffrey Skoll is buying into Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Wizards and other D.C.-area sports franchises, per Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams of Sportico (subscription required). Skoll, who was the first president of eBay and has an estimated worth of $5.6 billion, will become a minority stakeholder in Ted Leonsis‘ parent company, which also controls the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Southeast Notes: Suggs, Martin, Bogdanovic, Leonsis

Jalen Suggs hasn’t been able to avoid injury issues since coming to the NBA, writes Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. After being limited to 48 games as a rookie, the Magic guard suffered a capsule sprain and bone bruise in his left knee in an October 7 preseason contest, then had to leave Friday’s game with a sprained right ankle.

Suggs twisted the ankle in the third quarter after being fouled and landing awkwardly on a drive to the basket. He was able to shoot his free throws, but then hopped to the locker room with help from trainers and didn’t return. An MRI today confirmed that it’s a sprain, and Suggs’ return will depend on how he responds to treatment, the Magic tweeted.

“My heart goes out to the kid,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “He’s working and continuing to battle no matter what happens. He’s continued to put the work in despite injuries. He’s doing the work with the film. He’s a resilient, tough kid. He’s going to continue to bounce back.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets may be without Cody Martin for a while, according to Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. Martin sat out Friday’s game with left quad soreness after getting injured in the first quarter of the season opener. He also missed all but one preseason game while recovering from left knee tendiopathy. “Hopefully, it’s not anything that’s going to linger,” coach Steve Clifford said. “When he first went in (Wednesday’s) game … he kind of stumbled and his knee bent, the one that he’s had issues with. So it flared back up and so obviously we need to be careful with this. They had done a great job getting him back. He’s, to me, is a critical, critical player on our team and we need what he brings. But the priority right now is just to get him healthy.”
  • Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic still has a way to go before returning from knee surgery, per Lauren Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Coach Nate McMillan said Bogdanovic hasn’t progressed beyond light shooting and drills, and the medical staff can’t determine how close he is to playing until they can watch him at practice.
  • A group led by Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has emerged as the frontrunner to buy baseball’s Washington Nationals, report David Aldridge, Brittany Ghiroli and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Leonsis also owns the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics.

Wizards Rumors: Beal, Simmons, Avdija, Hachimura, Bertans

We already published one collection of Wizards-related rumors today, examining the team’s interest in Domantas Sabonis and Spencer Dinwiddie‘s availability, among other topics. However, a deep dive into Washington’s deadline plans from David Aldridge and Josh Robbins of The Athletic covers a few additional bases, necessitating another roundup of notes and rumors from out of the nation’s capital.

Aldridge and Robbins, like other reporters, have heard no indications that the Wizards are considering trading star Bradley Beal, but the sources they spoke to were less certain about Beal’s intentions going forward.

Multiple league sources told The Athletic that the veteran guard remains conflicted about his future, torn between wanting to remain loyal to D.C. and being uncertain about whether the Wizards can surround him with championship-caliber talent.

Beal has been frustrated by the team’s gradual slide down the standings this season, and sources close to him suggest he wouldn’t automatically reject the idea of being traded, according to Aldridge and Robbins. However, he hasn’t asked to be dealt and his preference is still to remain with the Wizards, who want to continue building around him.

Here are a few more highlights from The Athletic’s story on the Wizards:

  • While Beal is among the Sixers‘ targets in a Ben Simmons trade, Philadelphia isn’t willing to include Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle along with Simmons in an offer for Beal, sources tell Aldridge and Robbins.
  • If the Wizards were to trade Beal, it would likely signal the beginning of a teardown and a restart for the franchise, which owner Ted Leonsis seems adamantly opposed to, per The Athletic’s duo. “I don’t see them doing that because I think the owner would prefer not to go through the pain,” one rival team executive said. “They’ve got the right people in place (in the front office), but (Leonsis) doesn’t have the stomach for it.”
  • The consensus around the NBA is that most of the veterans the Wizards have made available, including Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, and Thomas Bryant, don’t have enough value on their own to net significant returns. At least one of Deni Avdija or Rui Hachimura would probably have to be included if Washington wants to take a bigger swing. One league executive who spoke to The Athletic described Avdija and Hachimura as potential “starting-caliber players,” but said talent evaluators generally don’t view them as future All-Stars.
  • In order to move Davis Bertans, who is under contract through 2025, the Wizards would likely have to either attach an asset or take back an equally bad contract, per Aldridge and Robbins. “It feels tough (without attaching a pick),” one executive said. “Maybe they can take back a similar contract that doesn’t have the player option year. But, yeah, hard to move.”

Wizards Extend, Promote Tommy Sheppard

The Wizards have signed general manager Tommy Sheppard to a contract extension and promoted him, as reported by Ava Wallace of The Washington Post and confirmed by the team in a press release. Sheppard will now hold the title of team president in addition to GM.

Sheppard took control of the Wizards’ front office in 2019, replacing longtime head of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld. He finalized a short-term extension with Bradley Beal during his first few months on the job and has since reshaped the roster around the star guard.

After winning just 25 games in Sheppard’s first season at the helm, the Wizards earned a playoff spot in 2020/21 and are off to a 10-3 start this season, putting them atop the Eastern Conference. Sheppard has received praise for his offseason deal that turned pricey star Russell Westbrook into several reliable rotation players and allowed the team to add Spencer Dinwiddie via sign-and-trade.

In addition to extending and promoting Sheppard, the Wizards have done the same for chief planning and operations officer Sashi Brown. The team says Brown will be the president of Monumental Basketball, as well as a special advisor to the Office of the CEO at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns and operates the Wizards.

“Tommy has effectively improved our team each year of his tenure by following the plan he laid out to us as his vision when we hired him as general manager and Sashi has been instrumental in making us a leader in analytics, research and player engagement while efficiently streamlining operations across all of our basketball teams and venues,” Wizards owner and Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis said in a statement. “Their combined efforts have put us in a position to compete now with an exciting and hard-working team while also having the flexibility to execute our long-term strategy of building a championship program that is a leader in the community.”

Wizards Notes: Gafford, Beal, Leonsis, Dinwiddie

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis considers Daniel Gafford a “core piece,” which is why the organization chose to give the young big man an extension, as he told Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.

“I think he’s a core piece. To have a center that young with that kind of defensive presence, I think you saw that (in Wednesday’s opener),” Leonsis said. “People were thinking twice before coming into the lane. A couple of blocks kind of gets in their head. We haven’t had that kind of size, skill and leaping ability in a long, long time.”

Gafford’s three-year extension is worth $40.2MM.

We have more on the Wizards:

  • Bradley Beal missed the team’s 135-134 overtime win over Indiana on Friday with a right hip contusion, Hughes tweets. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. is optimistic Beal will return to action on Monday at Brooklyn, according to The Associated Press.
  • The franchise has a max extension offer on the table for Beal but Leonsis isn’t fretting over the fact his star player is taking a wait-and-see approach, Hughes writes in a separate story. Beal can choose to opt out after this season if he wants to seek a new opportunity or if he wants to maximize his earnings with the Wizards. “Brad and I have a very respectful, very honest relationship. … He will obviously always do what’s right for his family. We will do what’s right for the organization,” Leonsis said. “I believe — and I think he believes — that there is synergy in what’s best for him and what’s best for us. It’s not something he’s obsessing over or we’re obsessing over.”
  • Key offseason addition Spencer Dinwiddie carried the team to its overtime win on Friday with 34 points and nine assists. Dinwiddie, acquired in a sign-and-trade, made several clutch 3-pointers and calls himself one of the league’s best in that department, Ava Wallace of the Washington Post writes. “Look, I get it, I’m not the sexiest name, nor do I [pretend to be] Dame [Lillard] or Steph [Curry] or none of those guys. But those things happen; the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “Like, game-winning shots, we can go on YouTube and look at mine. And if Brad’s out, I probably will be the one taking those most times, I would say.”