Ernie Grunfeld recently, somewhat, let the cat out of the bag regarding an impending team color scheme change — which was really inevitable anyway, it’s just that hearing a formality from the team president of basketball operations before it comes from the blogging owner of transparency, Ted Leonsis, perks up some ears.
Leonsis made himself available to the media toward the end of Monday’s Midnight Madness, even though I imagine he was pretty exhausted from his travels. He had meetings regarding the NHL, American Express and the NBA in New York City during the day on Monday, and said, “I didn’t think I’d get back here in time. I was really tired, but I walked in and all these kids were screaming and hollering, and now I have a lot of energy.”
I figured I’d ask him about the color change (to red, white and blue), to see if he was ready to make some sort of announcement … that’s not an “as you know” as the end of the press conference.
[As an aside, I think I'm ready to claim "As you know..." as Ernie Grunfeld's go-to equivalent of Antawn Jamison's "And things of that nature ..." and Mike Miller's "It is what it is."
And while I'm at it, I probably need to stop peppering in the word "kinda" at irrelevant places when I'm interviewing players, something I've noticed over time. It's kinda like my "uh..." or whatever speaking pauses/fillers that people have.]
After a pause to let muffled chuckles subside, Leonsis said:
“I love red, I love white and blue,” [TAI Exclusive! Ted loves other colors!].
“But it really isn’t fair, I’ll be very direct. You know, we’re testing, but we have not finalized, nothing has been approved. And it would just be the colors, and if we did that, it wouldn’t be for this season, it would be the next season. But nothing has been finalized, the league hasn’t approved anything, we haven’t chosen a final design.”
I’m not sure what isn’t fair, but on a related note … face it folks, this team will never be the Washington Bullets again (via DC Sports Bog), but don’t be afraid to go buy that retro gear.
Leonsis was then asked by another reporter about “serious/solemn” Gilbert Arenas, the appearance of which has many of the media who have several degrees of separation from the team baffled over this “new” character. This is the version of Arenas that he wants to show to the media. He’s acting. He’s pretending. He’s faking. He’s depriving people of his personality, on purpose.
Ivan Carter of Washington Post Live, and former Post Wizards beat reporter, puts it (via Twitter, @washpostlive):
“Anyone who thinks yesterday’s Gilbert performance was anything other than a media play hasn’t been around Gil long enough.”
Sure, all of it was sparked by some very tumultuous off-court activity, which likely allows Arenas to channel emotion to this new facade, but he’s still just Gilbert inside, and to his teammates — albeit, hopefully not the same Gilbert who poops in shoes.
Nonetheless, surely some media members will be jaded that there will be no more “personable” Arenas to interact with … for the time being … and they will go on the attack, especially because of his past. Calm down, those members of the media to which this applies. Personally, I find covering Arenas, as a recovering basketball player and as a “personality,” whatever the nature, is just as interesting because of Arenas’ experiment of introverted psychology that’s replacing a history of extrovertedness (made-up word), and its affects on those (the media) who think they need more.
Exactly … whatever I just wrote. That being said, I think Gilbert’s ruse shows there still are some issues, but for the moment I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt so he can let his game do the talking.
In any case, Leonsis jumped to insist that Arenas wasn’t “solemn,” and then craftily dodged the question … because, perhaps, even though he has to go to bat for Gilbert, Leonsis likely might not fully understand his motivation, but is giving who he considers to be a good character at heart a chance to work out those issues on his own. Leonsis’ response, nonetheless:
“No, not solemn, no … No, I’m very happy. In our conversations it was, ‘I have to be all about basketball, and I have to be about team success.’ One of the reasons for doing Andray’s extension was, ‘You don’t have to play for a contract now, you play for your teammates, you play for the team.’ That’s culturally something that we want to build … that if the team is successful, the fans will fall in love with the franchise, and you’ll have the platform to be a star and that teams really matter. Hopefully we have guys who are not into stats, they’re into wins. Collectively, the optics of this team, it’s important that, not only are they coachable, but they like being around each other. I thought some of the past teams, the chemistry wasn’t high. I’ve seen with the Caps, a very tight locker room, a belief in the coach, a belief in one another, is worth a lot of wins every season.”
Okay, so Leonsis didn’t really talk about Arenas’ behavior that much, at least not when my ears were around … so, apologies for the false advertising in the title of this post. More on Andray Blatche’s extension:
“He’s a great young player. He’d have this year on his deal, then next year, and who knows what’s going to happen next year with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and then he’d be an unrestricted free-agent. So we’re pretty transparent saying we’re going to believe in our young players, and we think he can be very, very special. He’s really maturing as a individual, and I thought, honestly, it was best to get that done and out of the way so he didn’t have to play for a contract. I want him to be a great player, but to really fit within a team environment. And I think that was a smart move that Ernie and Flip executed.”
I found the ‘so he didn’t have to play for a contract’ thing to be interesting, and smart, at least in terms of the team’s analysis of Blatche’s demeanor, or demeanor of NBA players in general. So, kudos to that move.
However, in the ‘past chemistry wasn’t that great’ sense, I asked Leonsis in what ways has he encouraged team management to cultivate more unity than there has been in the past under the same regime. His response:
“You wanna win. If you just look historically at teams that have won NBA championships, they’ve had real good chemistry, they’ve had consistency, they’ve played a system and the general manager has drafted, made trades for players that fit that system. We’ve been able to do that with the Caps. We know the system improves coaches, we know what George McPhee has to bring in to fit that, we know what kind of players and system we’re going to play in Hershey. When we bring in free agents, they know exactly what they’re going to get. And that’s what I mean by forging an identity.”
“Right now, I think we’re a great unknown. I want us to be a really, really hard team to play against. I think that’s the first step in gaining respect around the league and gaining respect from the officials. And you do that by having an eight, nine man rotation, lots of people playing lots of minutes. I think we’ll have a superior backcourt. I think we’ll have one of the better backcourts in the league. And I think we’re real young and real big, and we can run. So we should be an exciting team and the fans like that. I have to look at, can the team improve its performance and can we on the business side set more tickets, sell more sponsorships, and they kinda go hand-and-hand.”
A very smart answer from a very smart man. Secondly, a very brief summation of the system; firstly, a laid down challenge to a certain someone responsible for implementing said system from a team personnel standpoint.
Wizards fans, your franchise is in excellent hands. Jump on board for the ride now, because whether win or lose, this team will make it worth the watch.
Quote of the Night:
My colleague Mike Prada of Bullets Forever asked Leonsis about if he had any concern that people wouldn’t show up to Midnight Madness. Ted’s response:
“Let’s say I’ve learned how to deal with risk.”