Bickel’s Blog: Ted, Sell The Wizards

The Washington Wizards are 1-12. They are the worst team in the NBA. They have games against Oklahoma City, Denver and Boston coming up and will be underdogs in all three. More than likely they’ll be 1-15 with a road game against Philly next. After they lose for the 5th straight time to Philly (counting the preseason) they’ll have their most winnable game on the schedule, at home against the Bobcats who have 3 wins. Best case scenario in my mind is they will be 2-16.

At what point will you actually make a change, Ted? Most agree a new coach at mid-season won’t have a massive impact on this team’s fortunes. But the longer you wait the more credibility you and the franchise are losing with the fans. The empty seats are embarrassing. The .50 cent tickets on stub hub are a national goof. People are starting to think you are ok with it all.

I know you’ve been here before with the Capitals. You’ve seen it all. Nothing surprises you…blah blah blah. People suggested the league contract the Caps in the lean years. But you were able to ride things out and turn the franchise around. A lot of that coincided with drafting Alexander Ovechkin, but nevertheless you get credit for that turnaround. But just because patience and good fortune paid off with the Caps, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to go with the Wizards. Sometimes change is not only good it’s necessary.

I’ve jokingly suggested recently that you should “Free Flip” in the same sense that some wacky celebrity should be freed from prison. Everybody knows Flip is an accomplished coach with established playoff credentials. But the problem with my “Free Flip” campaign is it tends insinuate that Flip isn’t part of the problem. And the truth is, he has to be held accountable. We’re two plus years into the Flip era. His record in DC so far is 50 – 127 and trending downward. It’s time to make a change.

As I’ve stated many times, Flip officially lost credibility with me and probably many of the players when he started Andray Blatche the very next game after Andray refused to enter a game late last year. At the minimum he should have been suspended for the rest of the season. To start him the next game with no fine or punishment was unconscionable.

To compound it this season and name Andray captain was laughable. And of course Andray reinforced the stupidity of that move by publicly questioning his role on the team after the very first game. Already there have been reports of one player (Rashard Lewis) refusing to play in a game this season after a fight with an assistant coach (Sam Cassell). Roger Mason had to be yanked off the court after Flip signed the official roster and Mason wasn’t listed as an eligible player.

Just this weekend, Javale McGee had to be scolded for treating a dunk in a game like it’s an And1 exhibition. The teams one potential superstar John Wall has already been criticized for his moping and a negative attitude on the court. The team is playing horribly and it’s not getting any better. They’re 1-12 with less than a handful of perceived potential wins on the schedule. If you aren’t going to change now when are you?

My colleague on the radio JP Flaim insists the very first fire should be Ernie Grunfeld. He’s the one ultimately responsible for this roster. He’s the one that traded for Mike Miller and Randy Foye and passed up on Ricky Rubio. He’s the one that drafted Oleksiy Pecherov. He’s the one that re-signed Andray Blatche. He’s the one that put no shooters on this roster. It’s his team. He can’t go soon enough either.

I’m starting to think you won’t change because you don’t want to spend the money. Maybe you’re too cheap. Or phrased in a better way, maybe you’re too smart of a businessman to accrue such losses. I don’t blame you of course. Flip’s scheduled to make roughly $4.5 million this year and next. If you fired him today you’d be paying him $8 million bucks or so to do nothing. Nobody wants to do that. But sometimes being the owner of an NBA franchise requires those moves. Even if it means massive losses.

The Cavaliers didn’t want to pay Baron Davis $15 million to do nothing. But they did it. The Orlando Magic are paying $60 million to our old friend Gilbert Arenas to stay home and fish. Maybe paying off the $8 million owed Flip is part of the high stakes game that you are playing.

Speaking of players being paid to go away. It was almost universally accepted that the team would amnesty Rashard Lewis and get out from underneath his $46 million dollars owed to him the next 2 seasons. Why have that money take up precious cap space when you can use it somewhere else. It’s my understanding the Lakers have a team payroll of around $85 million this season. The Wizards are spending about $30 million less in salaries this year (around $56 million).

Why don’t we have better talent on this team? Why didn’t you amnesty Rashard Lewis and surround John Wall with a real player or two?

I know the goal is to groom a young team and have them compete for many years to come. But not everybody can become the Oklahoma City Thunder and draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. A lot of teams like the Boston Celtics go get Kevin Garnet and Ray Allen. The Miami Heat went out and got Lebron James and Chris Bosh. The Chicago Bulls paid to bring in Carlos Boozer. The Clippers made a move to acquire Chris Paul. The Knicks brought in Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony. It goes on and on.

We not only haven’t signed or traded for anybody like that in your tenure, we haven’t been in the RUNNING for somebody to make the Wizards competitive. (Rashard Lewis doesn’t count…he was brought in because as bad as his contract is, it is over sooner and for less money than Gilbert).

Instead your plan seems to be stay the course and lose or lose terribly and hope to hit on some draft picks. I don’t think that’s good enough.

My guess is it’s not what it’s cracked up to be to be the owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. Even though the Capitals are thriving you’ve commented publicly on how you still have lost money on the team in recent years. And while the Wizards season ticket base is growing the profit margin for owning the Wizards isn’t anything spectacular either according to the reports that came out when Mr Pollin died.

The truth is, you will actually make significant money on these teams when they are sold. Isn’t that in fact the real value in owning these teams? Beyond the thrill and ego of owning the team the real money is made when you sell.

If the bottom line is at the core of what’s guiding your decision making process why not go ahead and cash out now. Sell the Wizards and let somebody who’s willing to spend the money take over.

More from Bickel's Blog
  • J Baker

    Although I’m not sure if I agree with you or not EB, I can definitely appreciate your thought process with this column. Great business owners don’t think about their business in terms of this year and next. They think in terms of 10-20 years and maybe that’s what Ted is thinking. I love what he’s done with the Caps, not from a business perspective mind you, but in the fact that they are now relevant. It took him around 5 years to accomplish that. I’m not so impatient as to not be willing for him to do the same with the Wiz…. Just change the name though Ted….

  • WuuSaaa

    Eric, your take on Ted not firing Flip as more of a business move than a basketball move makes sense. I keep scratching my head wondering why Flip keeps giving Blatche, Lewis and Young more minutes than say a Singleton, Booker or even Seraphin for that matter. Playing the useless vets is depressing to the fan base. Flip is waiting to be fired. Pull the trigger on him and Ernie. Just do it Ted.

  • John Boulware

    A compelling argument that makes all the sense in the world. What is so hard to understand and tolerate is the lack of real discipline and the continued use of Blatche, for example, when he has proven that he will never grow up. Keeping him and making him a captian sends a terrible message to a player like McGee. So frustrating being a Wizard fan when they are so bad and all of the wrong things keep happening. Wall, Crawford, Booker and a few others may be in the process of being destroyed forever.

  • Christopher

    I’m mostly in agreement, except I’d amend it to say sell one or the other, meaning Wizards or Caps.

    Back in the day….quoted by Tony Kornheiser more than anyone else in the media….Ted, wanted to by the Wizards, he had no interest in the Capitals. Abe Pollin talked him into buying 100% of the Caps, and with a nod, nod and a wink wink,buying the Wizards and arena a couple years down the road. A couple of years down the road turned out to be more than 10 with the the value of all properties….and the cost to run them….increasing.

    As bad as the Wizards may be and as popular as the Capitals are right now, the better business decision may be to keep the Wizards and sell the Caps. The NBA has one thing the NHL doesn’t; a national TV contract that pays each team around $30M a year plus the NBA makes more on their national and international marketing sales. People think the Caps and their sellouts will always be but let that team start to slip and seats can be a empty as with Wizards games. The first year or two of Ovechkin saw crowds as low as 10,000 in the building for Caps games until they caught fire and made a playoff run 5 season ago.

    If you look around both the NBA and the NHL, you see more and more cities with two teams going to different owners for the two major tenants. Atlanta’s owner sold the Thrashers and kept the Hawks. Philadelphia is the latest with Comcast selling the Sixers and keeping the Flyers. There’s only a handful of NHL/NBA combo owners left.

    On the other hand, if Leonsis sold one team or the other, could he do so and convince a new owner of one team or the other to stay as a tenant in the Verizon Center? With all the money Leonsis group paid for the Wizards and arena, he may need both teams to be viable as an owner.

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