Leonsis shows hand early in courting Wall

Leonsis shows hand early in courting Wall
August 1, 2013, 9:00 pm
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John Wall, Chris Miller talk contract extension

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, left, looks on as point guard John Wall speaks during a news conference to announce his new contract at the Verizon Center on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Washington. Wall signed a five-year, $80 million extension to remain with the team.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

All along, this was Ted Leonsis’ plan.

The moment that the Wizards drafted John Wall out of Kentucky at No. 1 overall in 2010, he was intent on giving him a maximum contract as soon as possible.

Thursday, the day after Wall signed his five-year, $80 million extension that kicks in after the 2013-14 season, Leonsis didn't mince words about why he and president Ernie Grunfeld moved so quickly. 

"John and I talked about what we had to do the day we drafted him. It was going to be very painful. Rebuilds are hard," Leonsis said. "We've had 100% turnover of our team. We owe a lot to our fans for the patience that they've shown and also to the players because it was going to be messy. We're through that point now. I felt that John earned this because of what he'd been through and his level of commitment. Ernie and the staff crunched a  lot of numbers. There's a lot of analytics that go into it to show where John ranks and what his upside his. ... I thought he was our foundational player and that he deserved to be a max player."

The moment the negotiation period opened July 10 to discuss extensions with the 2010 class, Leonsis flew to Los Angeles, where Wall spends his off-seasons and his agent, Dan Fegan of Relativity Sports, is based.

Leonsis wasn't going to cut corners for this surprisingly mature 22-year-old whose poise and attitude is a 180-degree shift from the Gilbert Arenas era, when silliness, unprofessional behavior and ultimately guns soiled the franchise.

Those teams, which also had Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson, Andray Blatche and and Nick Young, averaged more than 40 wins per season between 2004-08 and made the playoffs each year, are better off forgotten.  

“John is our most tenured player. We sat down early on and talked about this journey we’d go on together,” Leonsis said of his frequent discussions with Wall. “This was a total rebuild and we would be building something special together. My belief was always that you look at the rotations of really good teams the core players are usually drafted, developed and retained by the (original) team.

“We’re very, very fortunate that John embraced that challenge early on. Also frankly, Dan Fegan believed in that was well. John would be a very highly sought-after player around the league. He has probably the most upside of all of the point guards that are out there. To be able to secure his services for five years plus the year that he’s playing this year (for $7.45 million) really gives the fan base, the team, the coaching staff the wherewithal to know that we’ll have stability and we’ll continue to build systematically around what John’s gifts and skills are.”

Leonsis wanted to be certain that Wall was on board. Sure, he could've waited until after the season to re-sign him because the Wizards would've been able to match any offers made to Wall as a restricted free agent. But why bother putting up a front when there wasn't really anything to negotiate? Why deal with a year's worth of questions about it? Wall wanted the max. Leonsis didn't mind giving it to him

I wanted to do it, show respect. I also wanted to see how he was doing with his workouts,” Leonsis said of his trip to L.A. “The discussion really was that I want to make sure I hear from you that this won’t amp up your personal goals, but it will be more about team goals. One of the reasons we wanted to do this and do it early is to remove the I-need-to-get-stats. This is such a stats-oriented league and to have the focus on what the team needs to accomplish.”

This was typical of how the Wizards operated this off-season. They moved fast when the free agency period opened July 1, signing Eric Maynor, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple in the first three days. They have 14 players under contract. The maximum is 15.

“By doing this, it should send a message to John and the team that we're about team results, not about individual stats,” Leonsis said. “Everyone has their contract, everyone is taken care of. There is nothing to worry about. There are no distractions. I also made a commitment to having a drama free off-season. I think this organization has had enough drama.”