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Volume 26 No. 65
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Leonsis Overhauls Wizards Front Office With Unique New Structure

Monumental Basketball will rely on the collaboration of all executives and staff under the unique new design
Photo: MONUMENTAL SPORTS

Monumental Sports & Entertainment Chair & CEO Ted Leonsis announced the "creation of Monumental Basketball," which will put the Wizards, WNBA Mystics, G League Capital City Go-Go and NBA2K District Gaming "under the same banner and brain trust," according to Candace Buckner of the WASHINGTON POST. Under the new construct, Leonsis has "formed a basketball board in which multiple opinions will be welcome." Former NFL exec Sashi Brown was named Monumental Basketball's Chief Planning & Operations Dir, and Former 76ers VP/Athlete Care Dr. Daniel Medina was named Chief of Athlete Care & Performance. Former Georgetown men's basketball coach John Thompson III will "head the athlete development and engagement department" along with longtime Wizards employee Sashia Jones. GM Tommy Sheppard will have "final say over basketball decisions" for the Wizards, Go-Go and District Gaming, while Mike Thibault will "continue in his dual role" as Mystics GM and coach. Sheppard will have "final say on Wizards matters, but the 'big moments' in Monumental Basketball will be a collaborative effort," and Monumental Basketball will "rely on the collaboration of all executives and staff" under its new structure. The new "cooperative enterprise is the product of a nearly four-month period in which Leonsis completely remolded the Wizards as well as his entire basketball operations department" after firing longtime President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld in April (WASHINGTON POST, 7/23).

CHANGE FROM WITHIN: ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski noted in the way that Grunfeld had "structured and managed" the Wizards' hierarchy, there were "few instances of subordinates afforded access" to Leonsis. Coaches and execs would "come and go, but audiences without Grunfeld's presence to filter interactions were rare." However, in Sheppard, Leonsis "found an executive dying to implement the values that the owner himself had created in his businesses and wanted with the Wizards: collaborative, data- and value-driven, and the pursuit of high-performing and high-character players." Leonsis "didn't see Sheppard as the extension of an outdated regime that he ousted, but the unleashing of a progressive mind who understood that the modern duties of a GM required the supporting cast that Leonsis has invested to bring to the franchise" (ESPN.com, 7/22).

UNUSUAL SETUP: USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt writes this is an "unusual front-office setup," as Sheppard, Brown and Medina are now "peers with distinct duties working together and reporting to ownership." Whatever the Wizards "were doing, it wasn't working, and Leonsis gravitated toward this structure." After firing Grunfeld, Leonsis "asked Sheppard to come up with a plan for the draft and free agency," and was "impressed" (USA TODAY, 7/23). In DC, Deron Snyder writes Leonsis "didn't just want a new builder to lead the front office," he wanted a "totally new blueprint for the front office." Fans of other teams like the Nets, Pelicans or Clippers are "excited about big-time players acquired via free agency," trades or the NBA Draft, but DC fans are "left to digest the Wizards' new organizational chart." That is "not nearly as flashy or appealing, but it's a start" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/23).

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU? Brown, while saying that his strategy with the Browns was "specific to that situation," said that his new job with the Wizards is to "innovate." Brown: "There's a lot more overlap (between sports) than you would think. 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" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/23). ESPN's Rachel Nichols said the hiring of Brown did "raise some eyebrows when it was announced." Sheppard said Brown brings a "managerial-style" with the "diversity of his experiences in terms of putting things together operations-wise." Sheppard: "His legal background is a tremendous resource for me. He's going to be somebody that we'll lean on on several different fronts." ESPN’s Jorge Sedano said he liked the Brown hire because he is an "underrated part of the Browns rebuild in the NFL," and he "doesn't get enough credit." However, ESPN's Dave McMenamin noted Brown's "reputation, when it came to the fans, wasn't the strongest." But he added in the Wizards' "current situation, you've got to think outside the box" ("The Jump," ESPN, 7/22).

BLAZING A NEW PATH: In DC, Jerry Brewer writes Leonsis "tore down the Washington Wizards' entire malfunctioning structure and remade it into an organization that gives him comfort." This is now "his team, his creation." Leonsis "took command in a way he hadn't over the past nine years." In many ways, professional sports are "often structured, on and off the field of play, for giants to have room to be giants." Brewer: "Move over, and let the franchise player lead the franchise. Give the GM power and a big budget, and stay out of his way. This is not what Leonsis wants" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/23).