Michael Winger talks 'incremental changes' and why trading a star is a 'last resort' move with Chris Russell and Craig Hoffman


Washington Wizards' new president Michael Winger said one thing that attracted him to the job in D.C. was the chance to awaken a basketball fan base that is starved for hope.

"It's a sleeping giant, I believe that wholeheartedly," Winger told Team 980 about the Washington area. "I believe the market is starved for hope. I've been with organizations that have rebooted, restarted [and] that provide hope, and sometimes you don't even have to do that. You just have to inject a little bit of foresight. You have to tell the fans, you have to tell the players what the expectations ought to be a year from now, and two years from now and three years from now to the extent that there's alignment to pursue those expectations I think everybody can get on board.

"Add it just builds upon itself, it's not tangible, it's not visible. It just one person says, 'Hey I like what they're doing.' And another person says, 'Yeah, me too.' And two people become four people, and 16, and 32, and so on. And I think if we can just inject the market with a little bit of hope, it's gonna pick up steam quickly and it's gonna compound upon itself. Players are gonna feel it, the coaches are gonna feel it, and players elsewhere in the [league] are gonna say, 'Hey, what's going on down there in D.C. You gotta take a look at that.'"

Winger said that in addition to owner Ted Leonsis' passion, it is a "pretty inspiring" opportunity to awaken this market.

While taking into consideration that Winger has not yet had much time on the job to evaluate things with the Wizards, Team 980's Chris Russell asked him a generic question about the best way to build a basketball team in 2023.

"I think it depends on where you are and we're in Washington D.C.," he said. "And I think it depends on who your ownership group is, and our ownership group is run by Ted. And so I think blending all three avenues of player acquisition is going to be the path that we take. That's free agency, that's trades, that's the draft and we're going to figure out over time exactly how to balance the roster and where to get the players that we think are the players that are gonna take us to where we wanna be.

"We will not be terribly selective in where they come from. If there are players that deserve to be Wizards and there are players that wanna be Wizards we're gonna pursue 'em.  And that could be through the draft, that could be through trades, that could be through free agency."

When it comes to key players from last season's team Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma – the latter two who are likely to opt for free agency this offseason – Winger said it's "the nature of the system" as it relates to the players – with Beal's no-trade clause – have the power to decide where they play next season.

When Team 980's Craig Hoffman asked Winger a more specific point about the best role for Beal on an NBA championship-caliber team, the new team president side-stepped. "I would answer that question if I had Brad sitting next to me because I think he has more insight into that than I do," Winger said. "I think that he's been playing the game longer than I have, he's been a Wizard longer than I have. And I think that it would be uninformed for me to provide perspective on that. Because Brad's the star and I'm not."

Winger recently told the Washington Post that "Sometimes, change for the sake of change accelerates progress." Hoffman asked what that means to the new Wizards top man?

"I didn't mean to suggest that we're gonna detonate the roster," Winger told Team 980. "I've had people shoot me texts and say, 'What are you doing? Like, are you a moron? You can't say that.'"

In further elaboration, Winger told Team 980: "To put it bluntly, the team as constituted hasn't performed. Hasn't performed up to the level that they themselves probably wanted to perform. And running it back as constituted doesn't seem like a very wise pursuit. And, so, sometimes making that change accelerates that progress."

But even that point may not be an indication of wholesale changes coming as Winger pointed to the Denver Nuggets who he said – at their core – have not changed too much from the last few seasons but made a few tweaks in the offseason and now are in the NBA Finals.

"So sometimes it's just those incremental changes that can have pretty substantial results, and that's really what I meant," he told Team 980.

Winger was asked about the process a team takes when deciding to trade a star player – like a Beal – and how in his mind it is "a last resort."

"When you get to a point in time when you in many cases relent to deciding that we cannot win a championship as constituted, the last thing you ever wanna do is trade away a player of that caliber, particularly if he's under contract," Winger told Team 980. "Cause you're not at risk of him leaving you. It's just incredibly hard to get players like that on your team. Every team, every year wants a superstar. There's just not that many of them. And so, the last thing you wanna do is move a guy for the sake of change, I mean at his level.

"But ultimately, why something like that happens is you've studied everything there is to study, you've pursued every scenario there is to pursue, and you just come to the realization that man, no matter what we do we're just never gonna get over this line. We're just never gonna get over this particular hurdle. And your last resort is to move a guy of that level. So anytime you see a guy like that traded it's because the team and the player generally together have decided that we're just not gonna win together."

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