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Ted Leonsis: Wizards’ GM vacancy best open job in sports

April 3, 2019

The Washington Wizards are headed in a new direction. Tuesday’s firing of longtime general manager Ernie Grunfeld confirmed that with owner Ted Leonsis saying he was “hitting a reboot.”

As for what that direction will look like, well, even Bradley Beal is waiting to find out.

“That’s just my biggest and main concern,” Beal said. “Obviously, we’re going to be totally different next year. ... We’ve got to balance it all, but first, we’ve got to find a guy who will get us right going forward.”

Leonsis reiterated Wednesday he would take his time in finding the team’s next general manager, opting to examine the organization’s culture first. He told reporters his decision to fire Grunfeld “wasn’t a cumulative effect,” but based off his team’s failure to make the playoffs this season.

But the Wizards owner appears confident he won’t have a hard time filling the position.

“We’re very focused on trying to make everything that we touch world class,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think we will have any doubts that this is the best important open job in all of sports right now.”

Whether that’s true is an entirely different debate.

In the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves are the two other franchises with a vacant general manager opening at the moment. Of those three, Washington’s situation is arguably the worst. The Wizards have a promising star in Beal, but star John Wall is facing a lengthy rehab for a torn Achilles on a four-year, $170 million contract moving forward.

Although New Orleans is in a smaller market and faces a nightmare situation of having to trade Anthony Davis, the next general manager could recoup a number of young assets and shed bad contracts in the deal. Minnesota, on the other hand, have won more games this season and have Karl-Anthony Towns as a foundational centerpiece.

But according to league insiders, Washington’s general manager vacancy is appealing. One rival executive told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh that “it’s amazing how many guys want that job.”

Working in Washington’s favor, Leonsis has a proven track record of giving his general managers a long leash when it comes to job stability. Grunfeld spent 16 seasons with the Wizards, nine under Leonsis. And in the NHL, former Capitals general manager George McPhee held the role for 17 years, 15 under Leonsis, until his contract wasn’t renewed in 2014.

The next general manager, too, will have some flexibility in terms of shaping the Wizards’ roster. After this season, only four players Wall, Beal, Troy Brown Jr. and Ian Mahinmi are under contract, not including players who are on player or team options.

But there’s no easy to fix. Landing prospect Zion Williamson would be franchise-changing, but the Wizards would need to win the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery to do so. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, the Wizards had only a 14.1 percent chance of winning the lottery.

Leonsis, though, said he does not have a list of candidates right now besides Tommy Sheppard, who is the team’s acting general manager.

“Ultimately, everything is going to be on Ted and whoever he decides to hire,” Beal said.