- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2019

The Washington Wizards removed Tommy Sheppard’s interim label and made him their full-time general manager, but they didn’t stop there.

Former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III and former Cleveland Browns executive Sashi Brown will join the front office in a revamping of basketball efforts dubbed “Monumental Basketball,” Monumental Sports and Entertainment announced Monday.

At a glitzy press conference inside Capital One Arena, owner Ted Leonsis touted the collective that includes the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, Capital City Go-Go and Wizards District Gaming — putting the firm’s NBA, WNBA, G League and esports teams under the same umbrella.

By doing so, Leonsis said he wants to establish trends, not follow them.

“Certainly after the offseason that just happened, if you were thinking it was business as usual, you would have been left far behind,” Leonsis said. “And so I was growing restless and antsy, but the way I was managing the franchise was by outcomes. Now, we are going to be a lot more focused on the process and the collaboration and the development of the entire organization.

“The new NBA — this was a radical change this summer. And while it scares a lot of people, there’s some goodness that came out of it. The talent is much more evenly spread.”

Leonsis and the Wizards had taken their time in finding their next general manager after firing longtime executive Ernie Grunfeld in early April. Washington met with a number of candidates for the job, only to settle on Sheppard, who had been running operations on an interim basis.

Sheppard will manage strategy and player personnel, among other duties, for the Wizards, Go-Go and District Gaming. Under Sheppard, the Wizards will look to skew young — something they’ve already done this offseason. The Wizards let key veteran pieces walk in free agency and collected a number of younger assets — first-rounder Rui Hachimura and former first-rounder Moritz Wagner among them — for the years ahead.

In this new construct, Sheppard will have the final say on basketball decisions over the other additions, though he will still report to Leonsis.

Sheppard told reporters his vision for the Wizards was to get younger and “get our payroll in order.”

Even now, the Wizards have the 11th highest payroll in the NBA. They were fifth in that area entering last season.

“I think what you do is you say, ‘This is the best opportunity long-term,’” Sheppard said. “We certainly could have brought everybody back and tried to do whatever we could to patch it together and maybe get to the eighth spot, maybe somehow grind out 45, 50 wins with all those contracts those players signed other places. (But) we’d be right back where we were next year. … That’s not where we’re going.

“We wanted to look bigger picture, much longer term.”

Thompson will lead a new athlete development and engagement department that teaches players financial literacy and prepares them for career opportunities after retiring from their playing careers.

Brown — who was fired from the Browns in 2017 after less than two years serving as their executive vice president of football operations — will be Monumental Basketball’s chief planning and operations officer.

In Cleveland, Brown went 1-27 during his tenure — but he stripped down the franchise’s talent and collected a treasure trove of assets, which they’ve now used to become one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. While he noted his strategy in Cleveland was specific to that situation, Brown said his new job with the Wizards is to innovate.

“There’s a lot more overlap (between sports) than you would think,” Brown said. “Teams in the league can get caught up in the same way because they do them the same way for so long. So a fresh perspective is what I hope to bring.”

Leonsis said he started to seriously consider putting all his basketball teams under one banner about a month ago. Under this structure, Leonsis said he and the team’s other owners plan to be more involved moving forward.

“We have a real clarity and purpose in mind,” Leonsis said. “The Wizards deserve to be in service to one of the best, most knowledgeable fanbases in the world. This community loves basketball — I’ve let them down. We haven’t won 50 games. We haven’t competed for a championship since we’ve owned the team. … Nothing will be a better feeling for everyone one of us … then to build a championship (squad).

“And that’s what we’re going to do.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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