Wizards owner Ted Leonsis didn’t have time to check, but said he was fairly certain that there isn’t a single player on the current Wizards roster who was on the team when he became the majority owner back in June of 2010.
He wasn’t far off. There was one, guard Cartier Martin. Martin joined the team in March on a 10-day contract and remained for the rest of the season. He signed a one-year deal with the Wizards this offseason.
“I knew we’d have to rebuild the team, and we did it fast,” Leonsis said at a news conference at George Mason University, where the Wizards are holding training camp. The Wizards also held an open practice and scrimmage for the fans on Thursday evening.
“I’m pleased that we were able to pull the band-aid off quickly. Now we have to see how this team gels and what we need on an ongoing basis to keep improving the team.”
Leonsis often likens his full-scale rebuild of the Wizards to what he accomplished after purchasing the Capitals and how it gave him a perennial playoff contender. Now, he has another example to follow — the Washington Nationals.
“I look at the Nationals arc and it gives me hope and strength,” Leonsis said. “I look at the Nationals losing 100 games and finishing in the basement and picking high and bringing in a free agent and making an astute trade. Then they wake up one day and they’re winning the pennant.”
There were several important changes Leonsis knew he needed to make in order to rebuild a team that has been in the NBA Draft lottery four straight seasons. Leonsis sought out a group of players with more maturity and focus than in seasons past, players with a team-first mentality.
“I’ve been struck by the immediate bonding and chemistry that these players are having,” Leonsis said. “One, because of the character that we recruited, and secondly because they know that if they bond and play as a team, they’ll have more success.”
Leonsis, coach Randy Wittman and several of the players have made little secret of the fact that this new incarnation of the Wizards is a much different group than last year’s team, a team ready to do what’s necessary to win. It’s an attitude Leonsis calls a refreshing change and a big cultural step forward.
If Leonsis had a theme for this season, it would be a phrase he repeated several times during his news conference — draft, develop and retain. If the Wizards organization can become successful at those three steps, Leonsis believes Washington can become the kind of destination city that will finally be able to attract some top tier free-agents.
“The first thing we have to do is know is our core players are, who is essential to the team,” Leonsis said. “Secondly, because we have so many assets, there will be the right trade that helps us fill a need that we see. And then I am very confident that when the time is right and the opportunity is right that we’ll be able to get a transformative player.”
For all this to happen, Leonsis noted, the stars and the moon will have to align the right way. Taking a team from an a lottery-bound cellar dweller into a playoff contender with a chance to compete for a championship won’t be an easy task, but it’s one he’s up for.
“I lost the magic wand,” Leonsis joked. “I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.”