Playoffs or bust for Wizards?
Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Wizards, didn't cut corners as he laid down the law. And he did it in a clear, emphatic, yet pleasant and almost paternalistic voice Friday.
He doesn't want to hear any apologies for his team not qualifying for the playoffs, despite Emeka Okafor (herniated disk) being out indefinitely and Chris Singleton (left toe/foot surgery) on the shelf for almost two months. He wants results.
"We have 13 healthy players and the one thing I'm not allowing anybody to do is use injuries as an excuse," Leonsis said at a news conference. "We have 15 players under contract. Two can't start the season. That means we have 13. That's all you can dress anyway.
"Last year, there was a pass given. We didn't have Nene and John Wall, our two best players. Understandable."
The Wizards held an open practice and scrimmage in front of season ticket-holders at Verizon Center, without rookie Otto Porter (sore right hip flexor) and Trevor Booker (sore right knee).
Leonsis was even more candid in a 1-on-1 with CSN Washington. When asked what was the greatest lesson he has learned in this rebuilding process: "I hate losing more than I love winning."
Wall, who has yet to lead the Wizards to the playoffs since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, hit the floor hard several times as he pushed the pace. Jan Vesely put the ball on the floor outside the three-point line and drove for an impressive dunk. Nene fell but the oft-injured big man was just fine.
A lot is going right for the Wizards with their first preseason game Tuesday here vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
Wall was given an $80 million extension. Al Harrington and Eric Maynor were signed as free agents.
But coach Randy Wittman and president Ernie Grunfeld are going into the final year of their contracts. Their job security will be determined by the results after a 29-win season a year ago.
"I don't feel urgency for those reasons. I feel urgency because I feel indebted to the fans. Fans have supported us when I was honest with them," Leonsis said. "We didn't sell anybody a bill of goods. We didn't try to fool anybody. We told them we're going to be bad and then we're going to be good. Our fans stayed with us.
"The fan base's expectation is that we're going to have a better team. I think everybody looks at our team and the other teams in the East and say we should be a team, if we play to our capabilities, be one the teams that qualify for the playoffs. So the fans are setting that expectation. And I'm tired of losing. It's not a lot of fun coming to games knowing this is going to be a tough night. We're just at that point now. It's the fourth year.
"We've retained our players. We've added a lot of players. We've spent a lot of money. And I expect us to be a playoff-caliber team. …That's the pressure I've placed on the organization."