Ted Leonsis

Wizards Won’t Hire New Team President Before Free Agency

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said the team will not fill its vacant team president opening before free agency, as he detailed in a statement to Candace Buckner of The Washington Post.

“I am very happy with the work and preparation Tommy Sheppard, Coach [Scott] Brooks and our staff have done and I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said in the statement. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”

Leonsis also addressed the reports that the Wizards would try to pry Masai Ujiri from the Raptors, denying that the organization has spoken to – or plans to speak with – Toronto’s president of basketball operations.

“We have not commented on the many rumors surrounding potential candidates during this process, but I wanted to make an exception in this case out of respect to the Raptors organization as they celebrate their well-deserved championship,” Leonsis’s statement said. “Any reports that we have interest in Masai Ujiri as a candidate are simply not true, and we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process.”

The franchise has been without a team president since April 2. Since then, the team has interviewed a handful of executives, including Sheppard and Gersson Rosas, who took the gig with the Wolves. Washington made an offer to Tim Connelly, but the executive chose to remain with the Nuggets as their team president. Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver have also interviewed with the Wizards.

The draft and free agency are the most critical events in an NBA offseason. Leonsis, whose Capitals are a year removed from winning an NHL championship, is comfortable going through them with the infrastructure in place.

I intend to create a leadership team when it feels exactly right and is in alignment with our findings and our final developed specifications,” Leonsis said.

“As I have said, we will likely use ‘many hands make light work’ as a mantra as we seek to establish a new organizational construct that is in line with what future of the NBA will look like: creating a shared platform on health sciences, data analytics, venue management, skills training, etc., for all of our basketball franchises.”

Wizards Preparing Massive Offer For Masai Ujiri

The Wizards will attempt to poach Masai Ujiri from the Raptors to become their head of basketball operations and may be willing to pay upwards of $10MM annually to pry him from Toronto, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports. The Athletic’s Fred Katz and David Aldridge (Twitter link) hear from sources that the offer could be in the six-year, $60MM range.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is expected to reach out to Toronto’s ownership group to request formal permission to speak with Ujiri, Woj writes.

In addition to the massive financial package, Washington may offer Ujiri a lead role in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the company that oversees the Wizards and the NHL’s Capitals.

The Wizards’ search for a top basketball executive has been on hold since the franchise was unable to come to terms with Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly. The team also interviewed Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver for the position, but interim GM Tommy Sheppard has been running the show since Ernie Grunfeld was let go.

After overseeing a perennial 50-win team in Denver, Ujiri moved on to Toronto in 2013, where he played a significant role in building this season’s championship roster. Ujiri made major moves for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol, while also acquiring under-the-radar contributors like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

Wizards Notes: Beal, Wall, White, Draft

Retaining Bradley Beal in his prime, rather than trading him for assets, might be the best course of action for the Wizards, Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington argues. Beal could be the ideal role model to establish a new identity and culture for the franchise, Standig continues. Beal could be the main locker room leader next season with John Wall recovering from his Achilles injury and he’d embrace that role, Standig notes. Giving Beal that power might deepen his connection to the franchise’s long-term success, Standig adds.

We have more on the Wizards:

  • With Wall’s super-max extension kicking in, owner Ted Leonsis wants his star point guard to take all the time necessary to make sure he’s fully ready when he starts playing again, as Leonsis expressed in an NBC Sports podcast and relayed by Chase Hughes“John understands his commitment will show from this rehab,” Leonsis said. “If it takes the whole season, we don’t care. We are not putting pressure on you on a time. Make sure that you are rehabilitating in the right way so that when you do come back, you don’t have that little voice in your head [saying], ‘Did I do everything the right way to be able to come back and be a great, great player?'”
  • North Carolina shooting guard Coby White and Kentucky small forward Keldon Johnson are among the prospects the Wizards are bringing in for workouts, Hughes reports in post written by NBC Sports Washington’s Josh Luckenbaugh. White is currently ranked No. 8 overall by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and the Wizards have the ninth pick. Johnson is ranked at No. 19. The Wizards will also soon bring in Georgetown’s Trey Mourning, Duke’s Marques Bolden and Temple’s Shizz Alston Jr.
  • Unless the franchise promotes interim president Tommy Sheppard and ends its long search for a new front office leader to replace Ernie Grunfeld, it’s unknown who will determine Washington’s draft decisions this month, Hughes writes in a separate story.

Wizards Notes: Grunfeld, Leonsis, GM Search

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said he alone made the call to relieve Ernie Grunfeld of his duties. “No one made this decision other than me,” Leonsis said (Twitter links via Candace Buckner of the Washington Post).

“My main goal is to right now as fast as I can bring in an outside firm to provide some services for us,” Leonsis said. “I want to do what’s called ‘best practicing.’ What do the best organizations look like? What do they spend?

“Maybe I made the mistake in the way we spent and invested out money. I have to be open-minded.”

Leonsis does not believe the organization will have issues attracting a top candidate for the GM gig, a sentiment echoed by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Resources and geography are among the reasons to expect the position to be highly sought after.

Here’s more from Washington:

  • Tommy Sheppard, the team’s interim GM, is a strong candidate for the position, per Leonsis. Sheppard is the senior vice president of basketball operations and has been with the organization for 14 years.
  • Leonsis called both Bradley Beal and John Wall shortly after making the move to notify them of the change, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports tweets.
  • Scott Brooks’ job status will be determined after a general manager is hired, Leonsis added (via Hughes in a separate tweet). The new GM won’t be restricted in terms of the direction the franchise goes in, as Leonsis is open to all ideas.
  • Hughes (in a full-length piece) identifies 10 possible candidates for the GM position, including Sheppard and former Cavs GM David Griffin. Hughes also speculated that Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton, who was with the Wizards from 2003 until 2013, could be a candidate for the position.

Southeast Notes: Beal, Waiters, Graham, Hornets

Despite missing out on the playoffs, Wizards star Bradley Beal refuses to blame his team’s shortcomings on owner Ted Leonsis or upper management.

Washington fell to 31-46 on the season by losing to the Jazz on Friday, holding just a 22-16 record at home and 9-30 record on the road. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld — overseen by Leonsis — put together a roster that many league observers were confident would make the playoffs when the season started. However, a series of injuries, shuffled pieces and bad chemistry eventually ended the team’s chances at making the tournament this year.

“And for me, my higher calling – I’ve let people down this year with the Wizards,” Leonsis said, according to NBC Sports Washington. “I want every one of our teams to make the playoffs and win a championship.”

Coming into the season, the Wizards sported a projected starting lineup of John Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard. However, Wall underwent season-ending heel surgery in December (in addition to rupturing his Achilles in January), Porter was traded to Chicago, Morris was traded (and then waived by New Orleans), and Howard has been forced to miss all but nine games due to injuries this year.

“He’s not playing, so I can’t sit here and just allow him to take all the credit for it,” Beal said of Leonsis. “We can just continue to move forward, continue to get better, but it’s not just on him, it’s on everybody.”

The Wizards only have four players under contract entering the 2019/20 season, with forward Jabari Parker holding a $20MM team option and Howard holding a $5.6MM player option. Trevor Ariza, Wesley Johnson, Tomas SatoranskyJeff Green, Thomas Bryant and Chasson Randle are all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, with Bobby Portis and Sam Dekker likely to become restricted free agents.

There’s more today out of the Southeast Division:

  • Heat guard Dion Waiters plans to vigorously focus on his weight once the season comes to an end. Waiters, who underwent a major transformation after his first season in Miami, has taken a step back in his overall health since undergoing ankle surgery. “My whole mindset after the playoffs is getting right to it,” Waiters said, according to Ira Winderman of the Sen Sentinel. “I took a year and a half off. This season for me is more about getting back in the feel and things like that, trying to find my rhythm and get acclimated by playing.”
  • Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham is proving to be a keeper for the team, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer contends. Graham’s development has been boosted by the veteran presence of Tony Parker, with the 24-year-old point guard improving on both ends of the floor in his rookie season. Charlotte’s future at point guard is mostly uncertain outside of Graham, with Kemba Walker reaching free agency in July and Parker set to turn 37 in May.
  • With less than two weeks left of the regular season, the Hornets‘ biggest challenge might be finding definitive roles for Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bonnell wrote in a separate story for the Charlotte Observer. “Where they fit in the rotation, I don’t know,” head coach James Borrego said when asked about the two players. Batum has missed each of the last four games (largely due to an illness), while Kidd-Gilchrist has played in just one of his last five outings because of a concussion. Kidd-Gilchrist saw just eight minutes in a loss to the Lakers on Friday.

Otto Porter Jr. Discusses Trade To The Bulls, Role With Team

Otto Porter Jr. entered into a new chapter of his basketball career when he was dealt to the Bulls earlier this month. The 25-year-old small forward is happy with his new home, telling Hoops Rumors that he believes Chicago has a bright future.

“We have a lot of young guys, young pieces. The team is definitely headed in the right direction, trying to get back to winning basketball here,” Porter told Hoops Rumors before last Friday’s game against the Magic.

Porter, who grew up in Missouri, added that the transition to Chicago has been a smooth one.

“Going from D.C. to Chicago, I’m actually closer to home,” he said. “So [right away], I was able to see a lot of my family in my first home game with the Bulls.”

When he signed his four-year, $106MM with the Wizards during the summer of 2017, the small forward planned on living out his contract in the city where he attended college and made his NBA debut.

“When I signed the deal [with the Wizards], I didn’t think I was going to get traded,” Porter explained to Hoops Rumors.

Leading up to the trade deadline, management reportedly reiterated to Porter that they weren’t going to trade him away. The former No. 3 overall pick previously said he felt that the team lied to him.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis addressed the response, telling multi-media reporter Mike Wise (Twitter link) that understands Porter’s stance and he feels “terrible” about it.

“We did tell him we weren’t going to trade him. We were going to keep our core together,” Leonsis said, before adding that the team was preparing to make another deal that kept Porter, Bradley Beal, and John Wall together on the team.

“We actually had some other things that we were going to do, and another trade that would have kept the core together and given us flexibility,” Leonsis said, admitting that the hypothetical deal didn’t pan out.

Porter developed into an ultra-efficient scorer over the past few years in Washington, someone who’s capable of excelling as a primary ball-handler or alongside other play-makers. The 2017/18 season was his apex with the Wizards, as he made 44.1% of his 4.1 attempts from behind the arc, a figure that was bested by just two players leaguewide. Porter finished the campaign eighth overall in turnover percentage and sixth among all wing players in effective field goal percentage.

While his numbers dipped slightly to begin the 2018/19 campaign, peak Porter has arrived in Chicago. During his six games to date with his new club, Porter has a true shooting percentage of 65.4%, making over half of his 27 attempts behind the arc. His player efficiency rate over the first 191 minutes of his Bulls career is an electric 19.4.

The Bulls are 4-2 with Porter in the starting lineup, though the wing left halfway through his sixth contest with the team after suffering a lower leg strain. Porter remains out with the ailment as of this writing.

The Wizards have gone 2-6 since making the trade. When asked what direction his former franchise was heading in, Porter replied, “I have no idea to be honest. I’m not focusing on them.”

From an on-court perspective, Porter’s role with the Bulls isn’t expected to be dissimilar to the one he had in Washington. Off the court, he moves from a situation in which many of his teammates were his elders to one in which his NBA experience trumps that of many fellow Bulls. He’s embracing the change.

“I’m one of the oldest on the team, so I have to [play a different role],” Porter told Hoops Rumors. “It’s pretty cool to be one of the vets here.”

Porter’s contract has two years left beyond this season, though his deal contains a player option on the final year, which comes in at approximately $28.5MM. He’ll get to see Chicago make one offseason of moves and play a season-and-a-half worth of games with his new club before making his decision on that option for 2020/21.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Wizards, Kings Ahead Of Sports Betting Curve

Monetizing the legalization of sports betting is a hot topic among owners of North American professional sports franchises and several NBA teams are positioning themselves to be at the forefront of the movement.

The Wizards and Kings are among the teams looking to educate potential bettors in preparation for when legalized betting arrives in their respective areas, as ESPN passes along.

“I think this is the most important new business for us,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said while stressing the importance of making sure new bettors are not confused when placing wagers.

The Kings are allowing fans to “Call the Shot,” something that gives fans the ability to predict outcomes like the score of a quarter or the statistics of a certain player. The team is adding a lounge for premium seat holders where fans can go to and use iPads to make “bets” before returning to their seats to watch the events unfold. The Kings are calling the experience “predictive gaming.” which is expected to be available for four select games in March.

“The arena is the game console,” Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive said. “And your phone is the controller for the game console. So we’re only limited by our imagination.”

There currently is no monetary value to the “bets,” as fans can play for free and will get virtual credits for winning. Sports betting is not currently legal in California but the Kings will have the infrastructure in place should wagering become legal.

“We’d have all the infrastructure in place,” Ranadive said. “We’d have the fan base that’s already educated. We’d have the ability to execute and all of that. So we think that we would be able to flip the switch very quickly and move.”

Washington D.C. is closer to legalized sports betting than California, as a bill that would allow sports betting inside of professional sports franchise stadiums and arenas is expected to be passed before the end of the NBA season. The Wizards are among the franchises in the district that are expected to build a Las Vegas-style sportsbook inside its stadium, according to the Washington Post.

Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks are expected to be permitted inside of Audi Field (D.C. United of the MLS), Capital One Arena (Wizards, NHL’s Capitals), St Elizabeth’s East Entertainment and Sports Arena (WNBA’s Mystics and Wizards’ G League affiliate GoGo), and National Park (Nationals of the MLB).

The Wizards have been progressive about getting their fans familiar with real-time betting. The team scheduled live, alternate sports betting broadcast for seven games this season where potential bettors can view what a version of live betting will look like while they watch the Wizards play.

“Right now, the people who go to casinos to gamble, it’s a small community and it generates $8-10 billion a year in revenues and play,” Leonsis said. “But there’s probably $100 billion that’s in the shadows by really sophisticated gamblers. And obviously, the first step is we want to get that audience that’s gaming illegally to come into the sunlight.”

Shifting experienced bettors away from the illegal market remains a challenge. CEO Geoff Freeman of the American Gaming Association believes it’s going to take a partnership between the leagues and betting operators to ensure that illegal bookmakers are put out of business, as I passed along previously in a piece for CNBC.

Eight states (DE, MS, NJ, NM, NV, PA, RI, WV) currently allow for sports wagering, though the impact on the illegal market hasn’t been drastic. “It’s not as if the bookies are out today shopping for new careers,” Joe Asher, CEO of the Britain-based sports betting operator William Hill, said after the landmark Supreme Court decision which made sports betting a reality in many states.

Pennsylvania is the only state with an NBA team that currently has legalized sports betting in place. However, there is no mobile betting available yet, so Philadelphians cannot place legal bets from inside the Wells Fargo Arena as they watch the Sixers play.

Lowe’s Latest: Rockets, Prince, Blazers, Heat

The Rockets and Cavaliers had discussions about sending Brandon Knight to Cleveland along with a first-round pick in exchange for Alec Burks. However, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com hears that those talks have ceased. Houston has also spoken with the Grizzlies about potential Knight deals.

Cleveland is selling Burks, Rodney Hood, and any other “indispensable asset” prior to the deadline, Lowe writes. The team is willing to take back future salary in exchange for picks.

Houston is expected to scour the market for deals leading up to the deadline with an eye on attaching a future first-rounder to Knight and Marquese Chriss. The Rockets would likely push for lottery protections on any picks that would convey past James Harden‘s prime.

Lowe’s latest piece contains trade nuggets from several teams in the league and we’ve already passed along news from the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and Marc Gasol sweepstakes as well as the Magic’s pre-deadline plan. Here are the rest of the newsworthy notes from the ESPN piece:

  • The Hawks have made Taurean Prince available in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Atlanta hasn’t received a ton of traction on Prince deals because of its asking price. The organization wants a young prospect and a pick in exchange for the small forward.
  • The Blazers have put their first-rounder on the table in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Portland has reached out about Otto Porter Jr.‘s availability, though Wizards owner Ted Leonsis previously announced that the team would not be trading Porter before the deadline.
  • Porter has drawn interest from several teams. In addition to the Blazers, the Mavericks and Jazz have kept an eye on the situation. Dallas was interested in swapping Harrison Barnes for Porter prior to the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
  • Miami appears to be willing to move anyone but Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo for cap relief. Lowe expects the Heat to try to get at least a second-round pick for Wayne Ellington.
  • Lowe confirms a previous report that JaMychal Green, Justin Holiday, and Garrett Temple are all available. Holiday, who was acquired from the Bulls earlier this year, cost the Grizzlies two second-round picks.
  • The Kings have approximately $11MM in cap space available and they want to use it to pick up an asset. Lowe writes that it could be a draft pick or a player who will help them win this season.
  • Sacramento is willing to engage in trade talks about Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings may simply let the center walk should he receive too high of an offer this offseason.
  • The Bulls are expected to listen to offers for anyone but Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. Lowe doesn’t expect Chicago to deal either Kris Dunn or Zach LaVine though, as the team’s asking price is anticipated to be too high.
  • The Nuggets own a pair of trade exceptions and have slightly less than $7MM in breathing room under the tax. They are open to taking on a salary dump if another team calls and has to shed a player in that price range.

Leonsis: Wizards Not Trading Wall, Beal, Porter At Deadline

The Wizards have been below .500 and on the outside of the Eastern playoff picture all season, leading to speculation that the team may shop highly-paid veterans like John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. Asked today during a Q&A with WTOP in Washington about that possibility, however, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis dismissed the idea of a huge pre-deadline deal.

“We’re not trading any of those players,” Leonsis said of his Big Three, per Noah Frank of WTOP (Twitter link).

It’s the second major declaration this month by Leonsis, who said two weeks ago that the Wizards will “never, ever tank.” It was clear at that point that Washington planned to hang onto Beal, who has been leading the charge to get the team back into playoff position. Recent reports have indicated that the Wizards may be more open to the idea of moving Porter, but Leonsis’ comments today seem to suggest that’s not in the cards this season.

As for Wall, he’ll be sidelined for the rest of the 2018/19 campaign with a heel injury and is owed approximately $170MM over the next four years, so he has always been considered an unlikely trade candidate.

Of course, even though the Wizards don’t intend to move one of their most expensive players, that doesn’t mean they’ll stand pat at the deadline. Leonsis suggested today that the club could look to add around the edges within the next week, Frank tweets. The Wizards’ owner also noted that he views Washington’s 2019 first-round pick as a way to improve the roster for next season, adding, “I wouldn’t throw in the towel on this core.”

Leonsis avoided directly addressing the future of general manager Ernie Grunfeld, but it seems safe to assume that he’ll re-evaluate the management group if the Wizards end up in the lottery. When asked if he was happy with Grunfeld, Leonsis replied that he’s happy if the club meets its goals (Twitter link via Frank). For now, the goal is a playoff spot.

Wizards Notes: McRae, Beal, Leonsis, Grunfeld

Jordan McRae‘s 54-point outburst in the G League probably won’t get him a standard NBA contract even though the Wizards have a roster spot to fill, writes Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. McRae signed a two-way deal with Washington in September, but has only appeared in eight NBA games with minimal playing time.

With his Capital City team short-handed Friday, McRae took over the offense and poured in the most points in a G League game this season. McRae is averaging 29.5 PPG in the G League and set the league’s single-game record with 61 points in 2016.

Still, the Wizards are more likely to add a player on a 10-day contract than convert McRae’s deal, a source tells Buckner. Washington has been at 13 players since waiving Ron Baker on January 7 and has until Monday to get back to the league minimum.

Financial considerations are also working against McRae. Giving him a standard contract for the rest of the season would increase the Wizards’ projected luxury tax bill by about $1.2MM, Buckner estimates, much more than a series of players on 10-day deals.

There’s more Wizards news to pass along:

  • Bradley Beal will be one of the hottest names on the trade market if the Wizards decide to move him, and Ken Berger of Bleacher Report examines the best potential fits. A rival executive told Berger that the Raptors might be willing to offer Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and a first-round pick, while the Celtics could part with Jaylen Brown, a first-rounder and either Marcus Morris or Aron Baynes and the Pacers might get involved with an offer of Darren Collison, Myles Turner and a first-rounder. Washington has denied that Beal is available, but the team’s future tax situation could affect the decision if the Wizards slip further out of the playoff race.
  • Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who pledged earlier this week that the team will never tank, elaborates on those comments in a story by Buckner and Scott Allen. Leonsis points to the Sixers, who spent several years trying to rebuild by obtaining high lottery picks, and notes that only Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid panned out. “So, you know, that process is pretty risky in and of itself,” he said. “I don’t think you can tell players, coaches, staff: ‘Don’t make the playoffs and tank!’”
  • In the same piece, Leonsis addresses fan anger with team president Ernie Grunfeld, who has been running the organization since 2003. “You live with it every day when you own a sports team,” said Leonsis, who also owns Washington’s Stanley Cup-winning NHL franchise. “All I have to do is look at last year with the Capitals. ‘Fire the coach. Fire the GM. Trade Alex Ovechkin. Trade Nick Backstrom.’ And that turned out okay. So, yes, I see all the things on Twitter. I read everything. I’m not all that happy with our performance, but you have to make non-emotional [decisions], what’s right for the franchise, what’s right for the team.”