Now that Michael Winger is officially named the president of Monumental Basketball overseeing all aspects of operations for the Washington Wizards, the focus is now on what direction the organization is going to take. Despite no official statement yet one way or the other, signs point to a roster overhaul and rebuilding.
Winger has worked for three organizations in his career so far; the Cleveland Cavaliers between 2005 and 2010, the OKC Thunder between 2010 and 2017, and the LA Clippers between 2017 and now. All these teams were championship-level teams during his tenure even though they weren’t able to win it all.
Winger has a successful track record of tearing down and rebuilding
The basketball mind with who Winger worked the longest is the Thunder GM Sam Presti. Presti, maybe more than any other GM in the league, believes in roster building through the draft, patience with the process and not chasing first-round exits. He went for it when he thought the team had a chance of winning it all, but he also had no qualms about trading away their franchise legend Russell Westbrook and star Paul George when he realized they had no chance of winning a championship with that core.
The Los Angeles Clippers had a similar philosophy when they hired Winger as their general manager under team president Lawrence Frank. In Winger’s first year at the helm, the Clippers traded away their franchise icon Blake Griffin at the 2018 trade deadline and let go of their All-NBA center Deandre Jordan. The following season, they traded away their top scorer Tobias Harris mid-season for draft picks and future assets, despite being on their way to a playoff berth. These trades allowed them to bring in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George that summer, creating a surefire contender in the West.
This philosophy of tear-it-down-and-rebuild is in stark contrast to the Washington Wizards of the modern era, who possess a playoffs-or-bust mentality. Expect that to change as it is hard to imagine Winger leaving a great position with the owner most willing to spend in the league in Steve Ballmer for the opportunity to chase the 8th seed year in and year out.
Keeping Unseld Jr suggests a lack of interest in being a playoff team
Another sign that points toward a rebuild is on the coaching front. All indications suggest that Wes Unseld Jr. is returning for the 2023-2024 season. There are no news stories about a potential Wizards’ interest in a new head coach. This is especially noteworthy considering that there is a slew of elite head coaches available in the market such as Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse, Doc Rivers, Monty Williams or Frank Vogel. If there was a desire by the Wizards leadership to chase the playoffs, there would have been more of a push to fire Wes Unseld Jr, who has a 70-94 record in two seasons, and bring in one of these proven, first-class coaches.
Unseld Jr had signed a four-year deal in 2021. If the team was trying to contend this season, it would behoove them to let him go and hire a new coach. However, paying two head coaches for the next two seasons does not make sense if you are planning to tear down and rebuild.
This does not mean that Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis will not be re-signed and that Bradley Beal will be traded immediately. But it means that they are not safe. A decision-maker who oversaw the trades of prime Russell Westbrook and prime Blake Griffin is not going to be pulling his punches as the new team president. If Winger’s track record is any indication, the Wizards’ focus is going to be gathering draft picks and valuable young players to be used for a big move later.
The Wizards are no longer going to be satisfied with being a mediocre, play-in-level team. Rebuilding may be painful in the short run, but if the goal is to eventually contend for a championship, this directional pivot was not only necessary but also long overdue.