Leonsis knows fans eager for return to playoffs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Owner Ted Leonsis knows Wizards fans want to see the team get back to the playoffs.
“I think the fan base’s expectation is we’re going to have a better team,” Leonsis said on Friday at the Verizon Center.
“I think everyone looks at our team and other teams in the East and says we should be able to, if we play to our capabilities, be one of the teams that qualify for the playoffs.
“So the fans are setting that expectation — and I’m tired of losing.”
Washington finished 29-53 last season.
The Wizards had high hopes entering that season.
Shortly before the Wizards made Bradley Beal the third overall selection in the 2012 draft, Leonsis said another lottery appearance would be “unacceptable.”
Even before that year’s training camp opened, such talk quieted when the Wizards learned John Wall would miss several weeks with a knee injury.
By the time the point guard returned in January, Washington was 5-28.
Following Wall’s return, the Wizards went 24-19 before a limited roster lost the final six games of the season.
Leonsis saw enough progress out of Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, to give him a five-year, $80 million extension.
Rather than start over again, Leonsis also kept coach Randy Wittman and team president Ernie Grunfeld in their respective roles.
“It’s not a lot of fun coming to games knowing this is going to be a tough night,” Leonsis said.
“We’re just at that point now. It’s the fourth year, we’ve retained our players, we’ve added players, we spent a lot of money.
“I expect us to be a playoff-caliber team. I think our fan base expects that too and that’s the pressure I’ve placed on our organization, that we have to meet the expectations of our fans — and it’s time.”
Washington returned 11 players, added perimeter options Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. in the draft plus veterans Al Harrington and Eric Maynor in free agency.
Leonsis spent money in other ways.
“We built them a new locker room. We’re looking at a new practice facility. ... We’re able to bring in free agents. We’re able to retain our players. They want to stay here.
“We’re doing all of the right things. ... Now it’s time to get paid back from those investments with improved performance.”
In addition to Wall missing the first 33 games, his backcourt partner Beal and Nene, Washington’s top interior threat, also had lengthy medical absences.
Washington was 15-7 when Wall, Beal and Nene played together.
While that trio is healthy, the Wizards are without starting center Emeka Okafor, who is out indefinitely with a herniated disk. Reserve forward Chris Singleton will miss several weeks after undergoing surgery.
Last season’s expectations may have been stopped by injuries, but Leonsis isn’t letting such issues change the goal.
“That obviously all starts with health,” Leonsis said of the expected improvement. “We have 13 healthy players. The one thing I’m not allowing anybody to do is use injuries as an excuse.”