Wizards owner Ted Leonsis spoke at a National Press Club Luncheon on Wednesday, and while he waxed poetically about the responsibilities of owning a sports team, he avoided any potential landmines by saying little about the Wizards.
With the NBA lockout almost two weeks old, Leonsis avoided giving too many specifics about his NBA team during the question and answer portion of his speech that dealt with the Wizards franchise.
Wizards question number one:
“How different is it trying to build an NBA franchise vs. an NHL franchise and what are the challenges of trying to make the Wizards a contender?”
“I’ll only speak in generalities because I don’t have enough experience yet with the Wizards, but we wanted to follow the blueprint that we did with the Capitals, and that was to hoard young picks and prospects.”
“In the 12 months I’ve owned the team, we had three first round picks [in the] last draft, and had the number one pick in the draft. Then we made a trade during the year and brought in another young player who was a first round pick for a team.”
“This year, we had two first round picks and a very high second round pick. I never want to win the off-season races, but we got really good grades on our draft for the Wizards, and we got really good grades for our free agent signings for the Caps.”
“It’s no secret that I believe that the way you build generationally great teams is bringing in young players, training them, developing them and hoping that they go through hard times together and they toughen up together and eventually they make the playoffs. Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen,” Leonsis said.
It’s a familiar answer from Leonsis to a question he’s been asked many times. What stood out the most this time was that Leonsis did not mention a single Wizards player by name.
Wizards question number two:
“What’s the message to Wizards fans who may be on the fence about renewing tickets, or just don’t want to fork over a lot of money, especially if there’s a prolonged work stoppage on the horizon?”
“I’m afraid I can’t comment at all.”
Wizards question number three:
“Since you were honest about the Caps when they were rebuilding, realistically, how long until the Wizards are back in the playoffs?”
“Well, basketball players come into their prime statistically younger than hockey players. The stats show that basketball players reach their prime at 25 years old, and with hockey players it’s 27. If you have young players with upside and they believe…” Leonsis then completed the answer by shifting his focus to the Caps.
“That’s another thing I am proud of. The Capitals have become a team in a market where there’s have’s and have nots. We’re now a have. The networks want to put our team on national TV; the league wants to showcase us. Players that are free agents want to come play for us,” Leonsis said.
You can’t blame Leonsis for guarding his words when it comes to the Wizards and the NBA.
Last September, he was fined $100,000 for commenting on the NBA’s salary cap structure, saying that the NBA could eventually have a cap structure similar to what they have in the NHL, in a story reported by the Associated Press.
Wizards question number four:
How wedded are you to the name Wizards and what is the possibility that the Bullets name comes back?
“I’m not going to comment on the name. Hopefully everybody saw what we just did with the rebranding and I couldn’t be happier with the rebranding. It did exactly what I was hoping it would do; it payed appropriate levels of homage to the past, and a good past - the team won an NBA Championship [in 1978].”
“But it allowed us, and frankly allowed me to kind of make my own way, and I have to be my own person. So I thought we struck that right balance of respect but also we have to look to the future. I think the fans have responded well, and even some people in the media liked it.”
The question about changing the name has been asked and answered by Leonsis as many times and in as many ways as it possibly can be. There will be no name change back to Bullets. They are the Wizards now.
It’s time to put this topic to rest, once and for all.
As Leonsis exited the National Press Club Ballroom, he paused for a moment and looked at the reporters behind him.
“I didn’t say anything I’m going to get fined for, did I?” he quipped.
I don’t think so.