- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It’s time for Ted Leonsis to be a real sports franchise owner – not the caretaker of a legacy of failure, not a cheerleader for pixels and patience, leading the parade for a playoff appearance for his basketball team.

No, it’s time for Citizen Ted to wake up a zombified franchise and be bold enough to tell long-suffering Washington sports fans that they are long overdue for real shot at glory, with some glitz mixed in as well.

Leonsis needs to convince John Calipari to come to Washington – to be the next coach and team president of the Washington Wizards.

John Calipari can coach. Sometimes all the bombast and hair gel gets in the way of noticing that. But his Kentucky team’s run to the NCAA title game this year – even though they lost to Connecticut — woke people up to Calapari the coach.

He is also an electrifying, or some may argue, polarizing presence, but he has a presence, a star quality, that a franchise that barely registers a pulse in the NBA desperately needs.

He can coach. He can win. And he is impossible to ignore – three long-time combined missing components in Washington. I don’t count the Gilbert Arenas era. That was an illusion, a team built never to go farther than their one second-round appearance – a team that never won 50 games in any of the four playoff years.

Wildcats broadcaster and former star player Rex Chapman tweeted during the championship game Monday night that Calipari is NBA bound – Los Angeles, specifically. “The word is - win or lose 2nite - it’s a #DoneDeal …Cal 2 La-La-Land 2 coach Mamba’s Lakers. #NoBS,” Chapman tweeted.

After the game, Calipari dismissed – but didn’t deny – he might be ready to leave for the NBA. “The Lakers have a coach,” he told reporters. “Kentucky has a coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”

But I think there is something to it. I think someone with an ego like Calipari’s has had a bone stuck in his throat from his NBA failed tenure as head coach of the New Jersey Nets from 1996 to 1999, when he took one team to the playoffs but overall had a record of 72-112 and was fired.

Calipari, 55, has become one of the most successful college coaches of his time, taking three different schools to five Final Fours (okay, two of those stops were wiped off the books because of NCAA violations) and winning a national championship in 2012. He has done it lately with one-and-done players – perhaps the most talented, but arguably the most difficult to coach as well. He connects with these players, and he keeps those connections close after they go on to the NBA. He remains of one Wizards star point guard John Wall’s closest confidants.

It may be time for Calipari to leave Kentucky, the most demanding job in college basketball, where a run like they just had to the title game may not be good enough to feed the beast. And, of course, there is the Velcro national championship banner that could come down if his track record of vacated wins from Memphis and Massachusetts someday follows suit.

He may be far better suited 14 years later to succeed in the NBA.

You say the Wizards already have a team president/general manager and coach? Seriously? Are you going to let the presence of Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman get in the way of putting Washington into the upper echelon of the NBA?

How long do Wizards fans have to settle for crumbs?

I’ve already documented numerous times the embarrassing record of Grunfeld’s tenure in Washington – even with the glorious playoff season of 2014, it is a 352-527 record. In other words, the Wizards could go 82-0 the next two seasons, and Grunfeld would still have a losing record.

Add to that Wittman, who has done an admirable job this year, a coaching record of 188-328 in eight NBA seasons, and you have combined record of 540-855.

Who keeps a management team with a record like that? Why live with that futility? For barely making the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference?

This is where the owner comes in, with a commitment to change the narrative about this basketball franchise with a bold move, and then to sell it to Calipari – to convince him that this young Wizards team is a better job than the Lakers, with the dysfunction and uncertainty of the Buss family feud. You do that by offering Calipari the chance to mold the roster here, something he would not be able to do in Los Angeles with the presence of general manager Mitch Kupchak.

It’s time for Ted Leonsis to do what a sports franchise owner is supposed to do – put the team on the fast track of success, and makes the Wizards an attractive franchise where players want to come. With Calipari, you do so with a bullet train. Stay the course, and it’s a railroad hand car, chugging its way to 40-win seasons and meaningless playoff appearances.

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