Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is Ted Leonsis The Wizards' Savior?

With Abe Pollin's passing comes a new era in DC basketball, but I'm not so sure the new era will be much different from the past.

Pollin owned both the Wiz/Bullets and Capitals for almost 40 years each, before selling the controlling interest in the Caps and a significant stake in the Wiz/Bullets to Ted Leonsis in 1999. The idea was that Leonsis would run the Caps, and eventually take over the Wiz, which is proven by him having a first option to buy the team after Pollin's tenure. After Pollin's death, Leonsis said,"That agreement established an orderly process for conducting that transaction and it is our intention to follow that process..."

So it is pretty safe to say that Uncle Ted is about to take over the Wiz, but what does this mean for the team? Most people I have spoken with think that because the Caps have become a model franchise under Ted's guidance, that the Wizards are bound for better days. The logical leap seems easy, but I don't think that all the Caps' success can be credited to Ted.

(Oops, that's the Dakota Wizards)

As I've written before, Uncle Ted is beloved mostly because the Caps are winning and partly because he connects with 'the people' through his blog. If the Caps were a middling team, would we still love Ted? I say no, but the important question here is whether Ted has an ability to build a winner in any sport, not just hockey.

My first question is how good would the Caps be without Ovie? If the draft lottery had not gone our way, and we ended up with Cam Barker or Andrew Ladd instead of Ovie, then where would the Caps be? This team is very good without Ovie, but not a title contender. One could make the case that the extra money and higher draft picks could/would be used to partly replace Ovie's production, but there is no way around the fact that Ted partly lucked into the best hockey player in the world.

Even if you look beyond Ovie, it is hard to say that Ted has single-handedly made the Caps so great. Sure he made the great hire of George McPhee, but it is McPhee and not Leonsis running the player personnel, and maybe Ted just got a little lucky with that hire. Ted has also been reasonable with contracts, but that is easy to do when you have a successful team anchored by the best player in the world.

The one characteristic of Ted that should translate to the NBA is that he was/is willing to lose money and go through bad times (rebuild) to build a winner. There are surprisingly few owners willing to take this risk despite their wealth, and this strategy is always the way to go when a team needs an overhaul; the Caps are a great example in the NHL, and the Tampa Bay Rays are the best example in baseball. The NBA, however, is different. Basketball teams and games can be dominated by 1 player, and the dominant teams always include one of the top-5 players in the league. The recent exceptions have been the Pistons and Celtics, but look at the Jordan-Bulls, D-Wade-Heat, Kobe-Lakers, Duncan-Spurs, and you get the idea. In the NFL, NHL, and MLB, the best teams have talent in depth, but in the NBA, it is less about depth and more about your top player (this is also why I thought Brandon Jennings was a great pick, thank you very much). Imagine how different the NBA landscape would be if the Wizards hadn't had the 1st pick in Kwame Brown's year, and instead had Duncan, Shaq, or Lebron? What I am trying to say is that Ted's patience may not be enough in the NBA if the lottery doesn't go our way. Patience and rebuilding is good, but you need more luck in the NBA than in other leagues. Even if Uncle Ted has a great ability to select the best GMs, he is still playing shorthanded without a dominant superstar, which the Wiz currently lack.

Given the Wiz recent struggles (season outlook post coming soon, I swear), and likely disappointing season, this seems another great opportunity for Ted to rebuild. Thanks to the contract of Agent-0, the Wiz are in a situation where a full rebuild can't commence for at least 1 more season, so Ted's magic may have to wait. Interestingly, the Wizards currently employ a GM who has been averse to rebuilding during his career, so the one thing that I am sure about at this point is that Ernie Grunfeld should be very concerned about his job.

As much as I love Uncle Ted, I am not ready to call him the savior of DC basketball. He certainly has the traits of a great owner, but he will need even more luck than he had with the Caps to bring an NBA championship to DC.

(Images courtesy of and

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. This is why the NBA sucks a major donkey dick.

    The most you can hope for from an NBA owner is that he will trust his GM, have the patience to see a plan through, and the organization will be a smoothly operated machine from top to bottom.

    THAT is the single biggest reason why Ted is a beloved owner. And it's why he'll be a beloved Wiz owner too.

    Also, I disagree about the Caps not being championship-caliber without lucking into Ovie. We would still have every player we currently have, and possibly a few more higher-round first rounders to work with. As it is we have enough assets to trade, and without Ovie enough cap room to get that world-class leader if we needed to. That's another discussion though.


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