WASHINGTON — With the Washington Wizards underperforming and lacking a clear path back to national relevance, Ted Leonsis has decided to hire LA Clippers general manager Michael Winger, a lawyer by training who has experience dealing with superstar players, high-powered agents and the nuances of the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap.
Leonsis plans to give Winger wide latitude to expand and revamp the Wizards’ infrastructure — and potentially launch a full rebuild of the roster — said league sources who were granted anonymity because Winger’s hiring, though agreed to in principle, has not been made official yet.
Leonsis will name Winger the president of Monumental Basketball, a new position that will give Winger oversight of not just the Wizards and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go but also the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Winger, 43, will take over a Wizards team that has missed the playoffs in four of the past five years, is set to pay shooting guard Bradley Beal up to $208 million over the next four seasons and faces an offseason in which forward Kyle Kuzma intends to become an unrestricted free agent and center Kristaps Porziņģis can become an unrestricted free agent.
According to a league source, Winger will have full authority over constructing (and perhaps deconstructing) the Wizards’ roster and the front offices within Monumental Basketball.
Winger will submit a five-year plan to Leonsis for approval, then update the plan after each year. Most important, Leonsis would not be against a rebuild if that’s the route Winger wants to take, a league source said.
In the coming days, Winger faces a more urgent matter than deciding whether to retain Kuzma and Porziņģis — and arguably even more urgent than prioritizing which NBA Draft prospects to invite to Washington for team workouts. Winger will hire someone to become the new head of Wizards basketball, a league source said. It’s unclear if that role’s title will be “general manager,” but that individual will be the person to whom coach Wes Unseld Jr. reports.
The Wizards’ hierarchy will be similar to the hierarchy within one of Leonsis’ other professional teams, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who have a team president (Dick Patrick) who oversees the team broadly and a senior vice president/general manager (Brian MacLellan).
Winger worked as the No. 2 person within the Clippers’ basketball operations department, reporting to president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank.
Frank and Winger complemented each other’s skill sets. Frank, who previously was the head coach of the New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons, brought high-level X’s and O’s knowledge and experience evaluating players. Winger’s expertise, on the other hand, centers more around developing a team’s short- and long-term roster construction strategy, conducting contract and trade negotiations and navigating NBA salary-cap rules.
As his No. 2 person on the Wizards, Winger likely will hire someone with a relatively traditional basketball background. Per a league source, that hire likely will occur within the next two weeks.
In 2019, Leonsis announced a sweeping reorganization within Monumental Basketball that included Daniel Medina, the chief of athlete care and performance, reporting either to former Monumental Basketball executive Sashi Brown, who left the organization in early 2022 to become president of the Baltimore Ravens, or to Leonsis.
Now, Medina will report to Winger, not to Leonsis. Monumental Basketball’s analytics department and security department also will report to Winger.
Winger had been with the Clippers since 2017. Before that, he worked for the Oklahoma City Thunder under Sam Presti and the Cleveland Cavaliers under Danny Ferry.
Leonsis led the search after he fired Tommy Sheppard on April 19. John Thompson III, the Wizards’ vice president of player development and engagement, worked as the primary point of contact for agents who represent front-office executives. Bob Schneider, the chief of staff to Leonsis at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, and Monica Dixon, Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s chief administrative officer and president for external affairs, also contributed to the search.
The number of people Leonsis formally interviewed is unclear. But as The Athletic reported on May 16, Leonsis interviewed New Orleans Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon. ESPN was the first outlet to report the Wizards will hire Winger.
In Washington, the player with the most All-Star appearances is Beal, who in 2022 signed a five-year, $251 million contract to remain with the Wizards.
That contract includes a no-trade clause that gives Beal enormous control over his future. Beal would have to approve the destination for any trade.
Beal, who turns 30 next month, has given no indication he wants a trade. But Beal’s stance could change if Winger begins a rebuild.
The Wizards have stagnated in recent years after franchise cornerstone John Wall suffered a series of injuries. Although the franchise reached the playoffs during the 2020-21 season during Russell Westbrook’s only season with the team, the consensus among rival executives appears to be that the Wizards are nowhere near good enough to contend but not bad enough to compete for an early draft pick.
Fixing that will be central to Winger’s job.
— The Athletic’s Law Murray contributed to this report.
(Top photo of Ted Leonsis and Bradley Beal: G Fiume / Getty Images)