After a month-long wait and speculation regarding the new front office structure, the Washington Wizards finally have their guy. As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, former Los Angeles Clippers General Manager Michael Winger has agreed to become the president of Monumental Basketball, giving him full leadership of the Washington Wizards. Looking at Winger’s track record, this feels like a step in the right direction for the Wizards.
First and foremost, Winger knows how to build winning teams. He was the director of basketball operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers when they made the NBA Finals in 2007, assistant general manager with the OKC Thunder when they made their only Finals appearance in 2012, and the general manager of the Clippers when they made the Conference Finals for the first time in their history in 2021. He worked with Lebron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook and is one of the architects of the ambitious moves to bring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Clippers.
According to David Aldridge of the Athletic, Winger’s ability to recruit superstar talent and his relationships with the game’s top agents were big reasons for the hire. Having handled contract negotiations for both the Clippers and the Thunder, Winger is likely going to have an immediate impact on this summer’s critical negotiations with Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis. As proven with the Bradley Beal extension, the Wizards need all the help they need with contract negotiations.
However, the basketball decisions related to the Wizards will not be solely on Winger.
Winger is expected to hire a general manager to run the day-to-day basketball operations while he is broadly going to be overseeing the franchise. This is a structure Winger is familiar with, as he was the general manager under team president Lawrence Frank when he was with the Clippers. We can expect a similar reshaping of the Wizards front office.
David Aldridge also reports that Winger is not a basketball guy in the traditional sense and he may “not even be at games”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The Wizards, more than anything, need a direction, and for most intelligent basketball minds -which Winger has proved over the years that he is one- that direction points to a rebuild.
It is safe to assume that Winger is going to have the freedom to do what he wants with the roster, considering he is leaving one of the most desirable organizations in the Clippers under the ultra-generous owner Steve Ballmer. It is likely that Winger received similar assurances from Ted Leonsis that he is willing to go into the luxury tax in the future a la Ballmer. This is a great sign for the Wizards in the long run.
The Wizards finally have someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses running the show. All signs point to Winger hiring a scouting-minded basketball person for the general manager position. After learning under two of the best basketball minds in the league in Sam Presti of the Thunder and Lawrence Frank of the Clippers, it feels like the right time for Winger to lead his own organization. It is an ideal match between a franchise desperately seeking to find a direction and an ambitious executive hungry to make his mark on an organization.
Let’s hope this is the first of many good moves to come in this new chapter in Washington.