LOVERRO: Ted Leonsis needs to sell the Wizards

Chris Lingebach
November 21, 2018 - 6:40 pm
Ted_Leonsis

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the Wizards' public-facing image goes up in flames amid a 6-11 season, with teammates reportedly sparring in practice and John Wall getting fined for cursing out his head coach, Thom Loverro says the problem is the same as its been since June 2003: Ernie Grunfeld.

Ted Leonsis' refusal to fire his team president is such a betrayal to Wizards fans, Loverro says, that the owner can no longer be trusted to do the right thing and needs to sell the team.

"He needs to sell it," Loverro told 106.7 The Fan's Chad Dukes on Wednesday. "He's wasted eight years of a fanbase that had no more time to waste. His retention of Ernie is like spitting in the face of a fanbase that has demonized the general manager, and I think rightfully so."

The Wizards are 542-689 (.440 winning percentage) since Grunfeld was hired as president of basketball operations in June 2003. The Wizards are 301-356 (.458) since Leonsis famously declared the Wizards to be a "sleeping giant" after becoming majority owner in June 2010. That's not a marked improvement, despite the Wizards making the playoffs four times under Leonsis' ownership.

"We like to talk about the damaged Redskins fanbase and what they've been through," Loverro said. "Those are flesh wounds compared to what the basketball fans in this town have been through. For nearly 40 years, never winning more than 50 games in one season, never getting past the second round in the playoffs."

"And for the last 15 years with Ernie Grunfeld at the helm, who has a won-loss record that, if they won every game that they played maybe for the next two years, they still wouldn't have a .500 record," he said.

"It's not very complicated," Loverro continued. "Ted Leonsis bought the team eight years ago. The first thing he should have done is said, 'We're not going to do business as usual any more. We're going to get rid of the general manager who built a culture where teammates took a dump in each other's shoes. We're gonna get rid of that guy.'"

"By the way," Dukes chimed. "That's not hyperbole."

"No. No," Loverro agreed. "So, instead, what did he do? Because he was too cheap to pay another general manager, he kept Ernie around. And here it is eight years later and he's wasted the first eight years of his ownership with a general manager who has never valued the chemistry and character in team building. Going back to his days in New York, Ernie was the guy who brought in Latrell Sprewell, into that mess.

"He was the guy who built a team around Gilbert Arenas, who was mentally unstable. He's the guy who brought in the 'Big Three.' Remember the Big Three? Andray Blatche and Nick Young and JaVale McGee? I mean, he built that farce of a team. And now here he is again, we're facing the third time the arsonist fireman has set the house on fire and is maybe going to get a chance to rebuild it again, with a dysfunctional team led by John Wall, who, as soon as he got paid, decided that, Well, you know, nobody's telling me what to do. Nobody."

"And so, the problem is real simple. It's Ernie Grunfeld," Loverro continued. "It's been the problem all along. He does not understand how to build a roster of players who can mesh together on and off the court. He doesn't place value on character. And I know a lot of that is overrated, but he's just been the opposite. I mean, he's just built one dysfunctional team after another.

"And to be quite frank, since Ted Leonsis is so embarrassed to have Ernie Grunfeld as a general manager," he said. "He hid the fact that they gave him a contract extension. Didn't let anybody know. Didn't announce it, because it would have been too embarrassing to hold a press conference and say 'we're keeping Ernie again for a couple more years.' Ted needs to sell the team. He needs to sell the team."

Leonsis keeping Grunfeld employed is more than just a blind spot, Loverro says, it's unrecoverable.

"I've got a column in Friday's Washington Times that says Ted should sell the team," he said. "And I point out a 2001 interview he did with Cigar Aficionado, where he called owning a sports franchise a 'public trust.' Well, he fulfilled that trust with the Capitals, but he's betrayed it with the Wizards fans in this town and he needs to sell the team. Obviously he must be spread too thin, you know, with the two-win world champion Washington Valor and the casinos he's planning on opening when sports betting comes on."

Leonsis also owns a "video game team," Dukes noted.

"And yeah, Team Liquid! You know, I mean I can't wait for that parade down Pennsylvania Avenue when Team Liquid wins whatever championship Team Liquid could win," Loverro said. "Let somebody own the basketball team who will care about it and not be spread so thin, who will pay attention to it.

"He'll make money! The franchise is probably worth $1.5 billion. I think he paid, by the time he bought the last 56 percent of it, maybe about $400 million."

"He's given up his right as the owner of this team for fans to have any faith that Ted Leonsis will do the right thing," Loverro concluded.

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