Willingham: Michael Winger's hiring Monumental for the direction of Wizards


Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has made the most Monumental move since he first purchased the team.

Naming Michael Winger the president of Monumental Basketball, the parent company of the Wizards, WNBA’s Mystics and the G League Capital City Go-Go, is the refreshing news D.C. basketball fans needed.

This is the beginning of the end for Wiz fans who have suffered through an eight-year run of basketball mundanity as the John Wall and Bradley Beal era came crashing to an end amid a 40-plus year conference finals drought marked only by a blip of the good-but-not-great Gilbert Arenas teams and Michael Jordan’s NBA swan song.

Winger’s hiring marks the first time since 2003 that organization has turned to an outsider to run basketball operations for the Wizards. Since 2000, the Wizards have had the fourth-fewest regular season wins in the league and so finally, Leonsis realized that a new voice – after nearly two decades of Ernie Grunfeld and then in-house hire Tommy Sheppard – new blood with new ideas was clearly needed. Winger’s outsider status alone makes him a slam-dunk hire.

But he is a 5-star candidate. In his six years as general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers, the team posted a winning record every season. Winger also pulled off aggressive, franchise-altering moves like trading for Paul George and signing Kawhi Leonard in 2019.

Prior to working with the Clippers, he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder under Sam Presti during the height of the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook era and spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers under Danny Ferry during LeBron James’ first stint. Winger has been the go-to guy for two highly regarded executives in the NBA.

Of course, one new hire will not alleviate Wizards fans’ concerns that the team will no longer play second fiddle to the Capitals in Leonsis’ mind. And the structure of one executive overseeing both the Wizards and Mystics only add to those concerns.

Entering his first offseason, the new boss has a lot of big decisions to make. Who to draft with the 8th overall selection in next month's draft is important, but establishing a culture and setting a new direction for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for four of the last five seasons and has (a mediocre player by star standards) Beal signed to a massive contract with a no-trade clause is more pressing.

According to The Athletic, Winger has the blessing of Leonsis to construct the roster however he sees fit and sources said he will submit a five-year plan to Leonsis for approval, then update the plan after each year.

Washington is set to pay Beal up to $208 million over the next four seasons and faces a summer in which forward Kyle Kuzma plans to become an unrestricted free agent and center Kristaps Porzingis can become an unrestricted free agent, too. And then comes the NBA draft. Who the team selects with the pick will tell a lot about the new guys' plans.

This fanbase is starving for a championship contender, but is tanking in their future? Does Winger have the stomach for a monumental teardown? While sources told The Athletic that Leonsis would not be against a rebuild if Winger decides to blow it all up, does he have the guile to convince his boss to allow him to execute his vision? Can he keep Leonsis from losing patience?

With Leonsis and Winger still to hire a lead basketball executive for the Wizards, there are still more questions than answers at the moment. But the biggest takeaway for right now: This is a new era for Wizards basketball.

Leonsis needed outside help and he went out and got it. Whether it works is a whole other matter.

Follow Lynnell Willingham for more here.

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