- - Monday, June 21, 2021

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said he‘s not afraid of taking a “big swing” when it comes to the basketball team he‘s been asked to fix.

Sheppard is stepping up to the plate now in a key moment, a moment that could change the fortunes of a franchise that has been walking in the desert for more than 40 years.

Hey, the Los Angeles Clippers are in the NBA Western Conference finals, so, it happens. Or at least seems to happen for every other team in the league but the Wizards.

Sheppard has the opportunity to hire a new coach after the unsurprising decision to part with Scott Brooks.

Sheppard wasn’t the one who gave Brooks a five-year, $35 million contract, and there was no reason to keep paying him that kind of money for the results the team was seeing.

Now, if Sheppard really wants to take a “big swing,” there is one home run worth swinging for Jay Wright.

The veteran Villanova coach would be a blast-to-the-upper-deck get for the Washington NBA team.

Going after — and getting  — Wright. That would take a really big swing.

Others have tried to convince Wright to leave Villanova, where he has built one of the greatest programs in the country, with two NCAA titles in the last five years.

In 20 years at the Philadelphia school, Wright has a record of 490-189. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In January 2020, Stadium Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman conducted a poll of 25 NBA executives for their list of the five college coaches they would want to hire. Wright was No. 1.

“I’m not sure he leaves for anything except for the Sixers job, but obviously he’s proven he can really coach and develop young guys,” one NBA exec said. “Look at what he has done over the years with guys like Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson. He gets guys ready and that’s important.”

Wright publicly took himself out of the running for the 76ers job before they wound up hiring Doc Rivers.

Brunson, his former Villanova star, also doubted that Wright would leave his comfort zone. “I don’t think he ever will,” Brunson told The Old Man and the Three podcast in May. “I think he could. Him coaching with Team USA has opened his eyes a little bit. Like this is pretty interesting, playing with the top guys in the league. But I don’t think he ever will. He has everything he wants. It goes Father Peter (Donahue), our president at Villanova at No. 1, and it’s Jay Wright next. He’s built a culture that’s unmatched.”

Hey, I said it was a big swing.

It’s going to require more than what Scott Brooks was making, because it is obviously going to require, as they say in the “Family,” an offer he can’t refuse.

Unfortunately, they don’t say that in the Leonsis family.

Under the ownership of Ted Leonsis, they haven’t been very successful at making offers people can’t refuse.

There is a list of players and front-office people who have said no to Washington when they have other options.

But Tommy Sheppard wasn’t taking those big swings then.

Maybe he’ll connect — that is, if Leonsis doesn’t take the bat out of his hands, a likely scenario.

This may wind up being a major Leonsis production. It won’t be just analytical. Heck, it will be mystical.

There will be consultants and panels and psychics and think tanks and who knows maybe the triple-double train wreck himself, Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook made it clear to all that he wanted Brooks to stay.

As the guard himself put it, “He lets me be me,” and that was never more evident than this past season, with really nothing at stake and no teammates to placate other than making sure Bradley Beal got his shots so he would get paid.

Sheppard told reporters he wasn’t worried about how Westbrook would adjust to a new coach.

“Moving forward, Russell’s career does speak for itself,” Sheppard said. “He was fantastic with Scotty in (Oklahoma City]. He won MVP in (Oklahoma City) under a different coach (Billy Donovan). Last year, he was All-NBA under a different coach (Mike D’Antoni) This is part of the business that we all struggle with, but it’s a certain part of the business that is something we know when we get into this business, that the only constant thing is change.”

The one constant for the Wizards over the past 40-plus years has been a time-worn phrase. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

If you need evidence of that, see some of the candidates for the job reportedly under consideration Wes Unseld Jr. (son, of course, of the late franchise legend), Sam Cassell (former Wizards assistant coach), among others.

Becky Hammon? I’d be shocked if the San Antonio assistant isn’t Gregg Popovich’s replacement-in-waiting.

Maybe Ace Rothstein can take bets on it at his sportsbook on F Street.

The odds on Jay Wright as the next Wizards coach? Long shot. But it’s the kind of payoff that would only come with a Juan Soto-like swing.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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