Members of the DC media were invited to the Verizon Center press room on Friday evening for a Q&A session with Wizards el jefe Ted Leonsis before the team’s open practice. Upon sitting in front of a group of about two dozen reporters, Leonsis wore a genuine, welcoming grin as he greeted us before the inquiries were fired away. Leonsis had a more content appeal to him in this latest address. Certainly he’s not really content, but he did seem relieved and in a sense excited all at once that things were actually moving in the RIGHT direction. That perhaps finally, this rebuild that he has been so diligently orchestrating amidst the displeasure of fans and media, is FINALLY set to prove it’s worth.
In roughly 27 minutes, Leonsis firstly expressed disappointment that his initial attempts to build the blocks around John Wall had failed so miserably. But he then expressed excitement that his new, young crop of players not only has supreme potential, but that they enjoy playing and pursuing success together. He expressed confidence, stating that the Wizards have no excuse not to be in playoff contention this season, of course barring any major injuries. He spoke with glee when addressing the backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal, and loves that they are maturing into their leadership roles at such a young age. He gloated about his head coach, describing him as a sternly honest and straightforward person, and saying that he “admired” him for his commitment and resilience. He expressed patience when asked whether anyone in the front office or coaching staff was on the hot seat this season, offering no resentment and simply mentioning that it would all depend on the circumstances.
Here are the highlights from Ted’s presser below.
On what he really enjoys about this particular group of players
“There’s a lot of character on the team and a lot of integrity and love of the team, and they want to be successful together. And so the camaraderie and chemistry that I’ve seen has been very very strong. And I think that’s good. They went through adversity together and it didn’t kill them, it made them stronger, and I think they know that they have to work hard and be highly coachable, but their expectations is that they’re ready as an organization and as a team to take the next step. I can sense that confidence in them right now and you know we had a little step backwards with the injuries and I didn’t see the wincing as we did last year. I think the team just kind of shrugged it off and said, ‘okay, we have enough talent in the room that we can still be a really, really good team, a playoff team, and get ready for the season.’ So, they’re very, very different, the level of maturity and the emotional maturity of the organization and players is much stronger and higher than it’s been in the past. But you would expect that because they’re not rookies anymore and the sense is that they know what to expect, and they know what it takes to be a great NBA player, and they’re ready together to take the next step.”
On the growing bond between John Wall and Bradley Beal
“I think they have a mutual respect for each other, and it’s really great to see them get along both on and off the court. And I think they have an appreciation for each other’s game. Just watching some of the practice and watching how Martell and Bradley go to exactly the right spots and John knows how to penetrate and find them both for corner 3’s. They liked that play last year, and it’s good to have both of them being able to do it. We’re going to be a hard team to defend. I think that John and Bradley appreciate that they’re both going to be with this team and are the key building blocks for a long, long time. And they like each other. That’s a big part of it that your key players like each other and compliment one another, and so in that regard we’re in really, really good shape. And you can’t forget how young they both are, still growing.”
On landing a named free agent in Al Harrington
“The respect that the fanbase, and the city, and the organization is being given is enhanced. And I do think that this is going to become a destination for named free agents. I also think that when you have young, emerging players that want to be here, they express their gratitude to the fans, they love the community, they love the city, they want to win for the fans and that’s a really good sign. And someone like Al who’s like a coach on the floor, he’s also been around. He knows good organizations, good situations. And he too wanted to be here. He likes the city, likes the front office, likes the players. So yeah, I view Al wanting to be here and the role that he’s already playing is very, very vocal. And he can tell the younger players when a situation is good and when it’s not.”
On building off the strong finish last season
“Well we started out historically bad, and when you go through a rebuild, you need to internalize how hard it’s going to be. And it’s why, frankly, coaches and general managers, presidents ask themselves, ‘are you sure you want to do this? Do you know what you’re signing up for?’ It really takes guts and strength of character to say, ‘yes, I know what we’re in for.’ But like I’ve said before, I didn’t see any other plan or strategy or any other way to get the team in a spiral going up other than ripping it down to the foundation. And it’s been noted before, we had 100% turnover of the team. That’s a very, very risky strategy. And I’m happy we did, and I know it was the right thing, but the daily pounding and the losses is very, very hard. It’s a really long process, and this is the fourth year, and I’m hoping we see the fruits of that labor. I thought we were positioned to do that last year and we just had injuries. And so the second half of the year, with Bradley maturing– you know when we saw Nene and Bradley and John Wall on the floor, we had a really good team. I think they only had 22 games or something together, but we were 15-7, which was statistically, or from a pro rata standpoint, a playoff caliber team. And so, we finished strong and we want to build off of that, but we also have internalized, I hope, that nothing will be given to a professional sports team. You have to take, and have to work really, really hard and the first time making the playoffs as a team is really, really hard.”
On John Wall’s maturation and leadership
“That’s why we extended him. He works really, really hard. And he understands making commercials, having sneaker deals, making a lot of money, that that’s a terrific side benefit of being a pro basketball player. But he’s our leader. He’s the player with the ball in his hands all the time. If a team doesn’t do well, you can trace it to [the fact that] he hasn’t matured yet, or that he hasn’t realized his gifts. [John Wall] understands that. And he naturally is about team success. And that’s one of the things you look for in a player. He doesn’t pad his stats, and he would rather make a great pass and have another player score than he have to score. He’s a pass-first point guard. And that makes the other players want to play with him. They’ll run harder because they know they’ll get the ball. They’ll rebound and fill a lane because they’ll know they’ll get the ball. And so John’s at that point now where he’s got his deal, he’s got his contract, now he needs to get the team to have team success, and then the personal accolades will come. He’ll be an All-Star if this team is a playoff team. He’ll be in consideration for 1st Team All-Star or whatever other accolades have to be given if the team has success. So I’m happy that he’s internalized that there is an intertwining of team success with how he’s viewed in the league. And you can’t teach that. That’s a natural instinct that he has and part of the reason why we think we’ll be successful.”