Leonsis happy with Wizards’ roster moves
Jeff Green, Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers are the three big names the Washington Wizards added to their roster mix this summer — all in different ways. Howard and Green came aboard as free agents, while Rivers was acquired in an early-summer trade with the LA Clippers that sent center Marcin Gortat to the Western Conference. Aside from those moves, the Wizards more or less return the same crew from 2017-18 that went 43-39 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Continuity for a team that finished as last season’s group did might give some Wizards fans reason to think the 2018-19 edition may not fare much better than the last one did. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, however, sees the potential for a much different outlook in the looming season.
He who spoke yesterday after his Monumental Sports & Entertainment group announced a practice-facility naming-rights partnership with MedStar and said he thinks his team has addressed specific areas of concern. Candace Buckner of The Washington Posthas more from Leonsis:
In the owner’s view, the offseason renovations should make Washington a force in the East.
“If you look at this roster for the Wizards, I think it’s as deep or the deepest team that we’ve ever had,” Leonsis said. “I think that the East will be very competitive, but I don’t think we should be overlooked. I think we’re going to have a really good team this year.”
In Howard, the Wizards added a former All-Star center who remains a solid option in the post after he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 blocks and 1.6 blocks per game with the Charlotte Hornets last season. However, this season will mark Howard’s fourth team in as many seasons as he seeks yet another shot at redemption in the NBA. To Leonsis, the talk of the baggage Howard can bring to a team are not worth playing into, writes Buckner:
“I think that’s a media-generated issue. I don’t think it’s a basketball-related issue,” Leonsis said about Howard. “He could’ve signed in many, many places, and really it all comes down to the salary cap. Dwight is paid like a max player. We’re paying him the mid-level exception. He will be a great addition to the team, he wants to be here, and his skill set is what we needed: someone who could run, play defense and rebound. And he’s at the time of his career right now where he’s been paid a lot of money; he’s still getting paid max money [with] the buyout and what we’re paying him. … So, at that price, I think he was the greatest addition we could add at that position.”
Leonsis added that he thinks the Wizards can go “10 to 11 players deep” next season and is happy the team addressed the depth issues he thought hampered the team last season. By most measures, last season hardly went as the Wizards had hoped. They failed to defend their Southeast Division championship, finished eighth in the Eastern Conference (after a No. 4 finish in 2016-17) and lost in the first round of the playoffs (after narrowly falling in Game 7 of the 2017 East semifinals).
A large part of that 2017-18 swoon could be attributed to the time All-Star guard John Wall missed after having knee surgery in January. While Washington did manage to go 15-12 during his absence, the Wizards had just seven games with Wall before the playoffs quickly began (and quickly ended) against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.
In a interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast on NBCSportsWashington.com last month, Wall also praised the offseason moves the Wizards’ made.
“At the end of the year, you’re kind of fall short because you’re fatigued — and nobody uses that as an excuse, you play and you try to get in the best shape possible,” Wall said. “But when you play 24 minutes of the whole [first] half and 24 minutes of whole other half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off us sometimes.”