It was an unremarkable scene inside the Washington Wizards’ practice facility on Tuesday. The team, hosting its second pre-draft workout but once again with a cast of players that seemed more appropriate for a G League audition, gathered around the outer edges of the court and watched the five-on-five action. Coach Scott Brooks, dressed in his offseason uniform of jeans and Chuck Taylors, stood along the baseline while Tommy Sheppard, the interim caretaker of the Wizards, moved about the gym from cluster to cluster.
For the Wizards, business continued as usual — as did the franchise’s search for a permanent president of basketball operations. On the day that marked the ninth week without the Wizards naming a lead executive, as usual, nothing happened.
To put this into perspective, the Wizards’ search has lasted five weeks longer than William Henry Harrison’s presidency. If this search was a pregnancy, it would be a pecan-sized fetus by now. And had this search started last fall around the regular-season opener, then the Wizards would have already played their 32nd game. By that point, they had established themselves as one of the most underachieving teams in the NBA with a 12-20 record — part of what led to the April 2 dismissal of Ernie Grunfeld, when the Wizards started this seemingly never-ending odyssey for his replacement.
The Wizards aren’t alone in treating an executive search as a marathon. On April 13, 2017, the Orlando Magic fired general manager Rob Hennigan. It took 5½ weeks for the franchise to name his replacement (John Hammond). This season, although the New Orleans Pelicans had a head start in their search, unloading Dell Demps in mid-February, the team still needed two months to decide on David Griffin. Consultant Mike Forde, who is also advising the Wizards, led the search.
Perhaps the Wizards are following the precedent set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005, when the team dismissed Jim Paxson on April 22, then named Danny Ferry to the post one day before the NBA draft in mid-June. Ferry remains as one of three known candidates in the running for the Wizards job, but nine weeks into this process, majority owner Ted Leonsis, assisted by Forde, has not signaled a clear direction of where the search is heading. As days drag into weeks, more questions arise.
Why haven’t the Wizards made a decision after more than two months and multiple interviews with the known candidates (Sheppard, Ferry and Troy Weaver)?
How did the search seemingly shift back to square one after Denver’s executive, Tim Connelly, flirted with the prospect of coming to Washington during a May 17 meeting with Leonsis but ultimately passed on the job?
And is there a mysterious candidate that has motivated the Wizards to wait this patiently?
If the Wizards are, in fact, waiting for a reason, then that might indicate they’re targeting an executive who works for one of the teams in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors. But even that theory has holes.
The Wizards have not requested permission to speak to Warriors general manager Bob Myers or any other member of the team’s front office staff, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Golden State has never been shy about allowing its front office staffers to interview for jobs during its deep playoff runs. Last May, the Warriors permitted assistant general manager Travis Schlenk to interview with the Atlanta Hawks. He was hired as the Hawks’ head of basketball operations and general manager.
Also, Larry Harris, the Warriors’ current assistant general manager, interviewed with the Pelicans before the job went to Griffin. If the Wizards had found their solution in Golden State’s front office, then nothing is stopping Leonsis from making the call and requesting an audience. Yet, the Finals are back in Oakland, California, without a peep out of Washington.
On the other front, Raptors President Masai Ujiri, an executive of the year candidate, has been rumored as the long-shot target Washington might try to lure away from Toronto. Although Ujiri’s global interests might loosely connect him to having an interest in living and working in a political hotbed — he has teamed with former president Barack Obama for his basketball ambassador work in Africa — wooing an executive giant such as Ujiri would not come easy or cheap.
In 2016, Ujiri signed a multiyear extension with the Raptors. Although his salary is not public, his power and influence within the organization is irrefutable — he was the creative mind behind the team’s “We The North” branding, and last summer he was entrusted to take the bold gamble in trading franchise mainstay DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. The risk propelled the franchise to its first Finals appearance.
Ujiri has led the Raptors through their most successful stretch in franchise history. Though Toronto has one of the youngest general managers in the league in 34-year-old Bobby Webster, it would seem implausible that the Raptors would let their lead executive go without a fight.
But it’s waiting, not fighting, in which the Wizards have proved to be adept over the past nine weeks.
Even in the slow drag of the offseason, the Wizards find ways to appease their highest-paying customers. On Tuesday, team officials opened the doors of their practice facility and offered a tour to a select group of fans. Along with team staffers, the VIPs watched the pre-draft workout.
The behind-the-scenes tour and courtside view were all the Wizards could offer on this day. There hasn’t been much of anything going on for the past nine weeks.