I left D.C. for Gotham on Tuesday morning with a handful of expectations, but mainly that I’d come back with my wallet, a few good stories and the rights to Anthony Davis. Turns out my good luck and charm didn’t work. Sorry about that.
While I failed in that respect, I did catch up with Ted Leonsis after the damage was done. I asked him about what he was feeling during the commercial break, knowing that the Wizards were guaranteed a top-three selection—the prospective winners of the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes had been narrowed down to three teams: Charlotte, New Orleans and the home team.
“That the odds of getting two number one picks in such a short period of time would be tough,” Leonsis began. “We finished with the second-worst record and I was hoping we’d get first or second (pick), but third is pretty good.”
Leonsis said he expects to see the rookie class from last season take a big step forward, especially considering that the young’uns will have a full suite of off-season workouts and preparation, including the Chicago pre-draft camp (for prospective players) and the return of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League.
He also revealed that the Wizards have strength and conditioning coaches around the country monitoring the roster and that there is a focus on improved jump shooting—he even referenced Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton by name in this respect.
As for the chances of the Wizards moving the number three pick? “I don’t think we’ll trade the third pick in the draft,” said Leonsis, adding that the team may move one of their two second round picks—32nd overall and 46th (acquired from the Dallas Mavericks)—in a package deal, since he expects Grunfeld to be aggressive in free agency.
I also tried to glean some insights from Theodore Unit, Jr., Zachary Leonsis, who was the Wizards representative at the draft.
“I was just trying to be the lucky charm tonight, and you know, I think we did pretty well,” Zach told me. “We’re lucky it’s a great draft and were going to get a really good player at the number three spot.”
As for the Wizards’ plans, Zach said, “You’ll have to ask Ernie (Grunfeld).”
So, I did.
Grunfeld wouldn’t comment on any specific positions or players, but he did make a point to say that good players can always play with each other.
“Obviously, everybody wanted to get [the number one] pick,” Grunfeld added. “We’re in a good position right now at the number three spot. We’ll have our choice of some pretty good players.
“It’s a deep draft, obviously a lot of the players are young players—power forward is a position that is pretty good in this draft.”
Perhaps a hint that the Wizards plan to take hometown hero, Kansas University’s Thomas Robinson, the 6’10″ big who grew up in Southeast D.C.?
“There are a lot of good, solid players. I don’t know how many stars will come out of this draft, but you can get a good player all the way into the 20s.”
Grunfeld went on to say that there are many ways to improve the team—through the draft, free agency and in-house player development. He’s confident that the current coaching staff has the ability to mold winners out of raw talent.
“I think the proof is in the pudding with our young players, especially the young players we had in John’s class,” said Grunfeld. “We had four first-round draft picks and we feel all of them have improved in their first two years.”
It’s worth noting that the Wizards have seven players who are entering either their second or third years in the league. They’re young, and while that shouldn’t be an excuse for poor play, one of the greatest things the team and its fans can do for these players is to stay patient. You read that right.
“People, including kids, don’t like to be threatened,” writes Inc.com’s Jeff Haden, a business and investment guru and best-stelling author, in describing the best way to effectively motivate employees.”
“Threaten me and I’ll resist. Spank me, ground me, reprimand me, put a letter in my file, demote me, and you’ll fail to change my attitude. In fact, you’ll increase my resolve not to comply.”
The key to producing major organizational accomplishments and motivating employees—or players, presumably—can be attributed to three things: exhibiting an understanding of what’s possible, caring about every member of the team and a demonstrating a willingness to accept the best they can deliver. Under those conditions, according to Haden, most people will give you everything they’ve got. If you do the opposite, however, they won’t; there is no feeling more damaging than trying your best but still letting someone down.
“Who do we generally care about the most? The people we feel believe in us the most, which makes them the people we least want to disappoint: Moms, favorite teachers, best friends… and remarkable bosses. Those are the people to whom we give our all; they believe in us… and we don’t want to let them down.”
See, in many ways, the kids Haden talked about are like the youthful, rebuilding Washington Wizards; the Washington Wizards are like Haden’s kids. And, like my mom always said, you have to walk before you can run. That’s Parenting 101.
At the start of the year, the Wizards had the third-youngest roster in the NBA, with an average age of just over 25. The team has since struggled through turnover after turnover—one class in, another out.
Sure, this team has appeared, at times, to be an abomination, but it isn’t without great potential—seriously.
This past April in Detroit, John Wall, the franchise player, became the sixth-fastest player in NBA history to reach the 2,000 point and 1,000 assist plateau (just behind Oscar Robertson, Damon Stoudamire, Tim Hardaway, Phil Ford, and Chris Paul). Seraphin learned how to tear up defenses on the low block. Jan Vesely, late in the year, discovered that NBA rims are 10-feet high, too. The team, playing as a unit, even finished the season with a six-game winning streak, the longest streak since 2007—they even held opponents to 84.7 points per game on .399 shooting from the field. That’s progress—slow, but steady.
Without patience, how can anyone expect the 20-somethings on the team to ever reach their potential? They’ve been given the keys to the car—you can’t turn on them for jumping a curb (or even bricking a few jump shots).
“We want to improve the team,” said Leonsis. “I don’t want to be here again, that’s really the goal—not to be a lottery team.”
A tall order? Maybe, given that the Wizards have been in the NBA Draft Lottery in four of the last five seasons. But the Wizards, it seems, are going about developing their talent in the right ways, and they have plenty of potential in need of polish. The team, as it stands with the third overall selection in its pocket, is unquestionably better than the Wizards team that found a way to win its first game in January of 2012.
Whomever the Wizards draft—Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal or Thomas Robinson—will help Leonsis, Grunfeld and Wittman (?) build the team up into winners … in the playoffs.
At least those are the expectations as I leave Gotham to head back to the District. That and some bad-ass humidity.