According to Albert Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That was the theme for running the Washington Wizards for the past 16 seasons.
On April 2, the course of D.C. basketball history changed when majority owner Ted Leonsis finally cut ties with longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld the door. This past season was filled with great expectations and the Wizards fell miserably short of meeting any of them. There were more losses to bad teams, questionable effort, a bad injury bug, and the jumping ship to save a few bucks (well quite a few million).
Leonsis and his outside consulting team have recently begun interviewing candidates after more than three weeks of organizational introspection. Less than a week away from the NBA draft lottery and other teams already completing numerous pre-draft workouts has the clock ticking for Washington. Simply put, the Wizards need to get the next front office head in the building soon with a top-10 pick’s fate at stake.
Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard assumed the team president duties on an interim basis that he has now been holding for over a month since Grunfeld’s dismissal. Sheppard’s role as interim GM will continue for at least another few days as he will represent the Wizards backstage at Tuesday’s draft lottery where the organization has a nine percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick. With each passing day, the chances of Sheppard retaining the position full-time grows.
Leonsis did the promote-from-within option with the Washington Capitals when he dismissed George McPhee and promoted assistant Brian MacLellan to the GM position almost five years ago around this time. At that time, Leonsis also hired Barry Trotz to be the head coach, which presented an awkward relationship between head coach and general manager. Common practice is that the GM usually picks the coach, but all of that turned out fairly well. Something to keep in mind with the still unclear status surrounding Scott Brooks who has two years and $14 million left on his contract.
But whether you’re in charge of an NBA team or an NHL team, both sports situations are vastly different. Many Wizards fans believe that in order to see true positive change happen, there needs to be a fresh face running the team. Because of Washington’s slow start on the interview process, the likes of David Griffin and Gersson Rosas are off the table. There are some good candidates still out there on the market while one candidate that many are clamoring for is still in the middle of playoff action. Let’s take a look at each of the faces gunning for what Ted Leonsis calls the “best, important open job in all of sports right now.”
While Ernie Grunfeld was Team President, Sheppard was his right-hand man for much of that time. He’s been with the Wizards all of the 16 years Grunfeld was with the organization. Prior to his time in D.C., Sheppard worked for the Denver Nuggets beginning in 1994 as the Senior Director of Team Services and Player Relations. A professor at Georgetown University in the Sports Industry Management program, Sheppard was the main cog in drafting Tomas Satoransky. Well-liked and respected by many, Sheppard will get a chance to lead even if it isn’t with the Wizards.
Fred Katz from The Athletic reported shortly after the Grunfeld dismissal that Washington was targeting Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly as their top choice. “There’s no list, Fred,” Leonsis made a point of saying to the assembled media the next day.
Connelly, a Baltimore native, was an intern for the Wizards in 1996 when attending local Catholic University. He continued to work for the Wizards until he was hired as assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2010 before joining the Nuggets five years ago.
Katz also reported that Connelly has privately told people that running the Wizards would be a “dream job” but he does not want to have to interview for the gig. Heading into Thursday night’s action, the Nuggets hold a 3-2 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers meaning Connelly is a game away from the Western Conference Finals.
Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Weaver is also a D.C. native. He’s been with the Thunder since their relocation from Seattle in 2008 meaning he has already worked previously with head coach Scott Brooks from 2008-15. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Weaver interviewing for the Washington front office vacancy.
The third DMV native, Ferry was born in nearby Bowie, MD and first linked to the Wizards by the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner. If the franchise is looking for nostalgia, they might not be able to look any further. Danny is the son of longtime Bullets GM Bob Ferry whose teams missed the playoffs just four times during his 17-seasons. Bob’s teams also made the finals four times and won the championship in 1978.
Danny played ball at nearby DeMatha, Duke, and most of his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ferry began his management career with the San Antonio Spurs, but is best remembered for his time in Cleveland with LeBron James’ first stint and Atlanta where he built two different 60-win teams.
The assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics, who were just eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks, was reported as a potential target by Marc Stein of the New York Times. Zarren has been living out a childhood dream of working for the Celtics where he grew up a season ticket holder and began working as an unpaid intern. Zarren’s name has not been linked to Washington since Stein’s March report, but he would be an analytics-friendly hire.
Whoever Leonsis pulls the trigger on, whether it is one of these five guys or a dark horse, it needs to be sooner rather than later. The draft quickly approaches, Bradley Beal may have a big contract decision shortly, and more than half of the 2019-20 roster still needs to be signed. For now, the Wizards will learn where they pick in the 2019 NBA draft on Tuesday in what will be their highest pick since Otto Porter Jr. at No. 3 in 2013.