Fun, Frugal and ForthrightPosted on June 06, 2012
This is a good story on The Washington Post website about Wizards coach Randy Wittman and his sense of humor. The media have a job to do and a coach who offers good quotes is often times a popular and heavily quoted figure. I thought Randy's appearance on the radio show mentioned in the story was quite amusing. There also was a column today in The Washington Post that discussed change and the spending philosophy of our teams. The columnist is an astute basketball writer and follows us quite closely, and he is wise and writes quite well. Basically his bottom line was that he called us, and me specifically, frugal (cheap or not wasteful?) and indicated that I’m afraid of change. He didn't mention once in his column the salary cap systems in the NBA and the NHL, nor did he note how to manage cap space and the importance of being able to retain players or sign free agents. Being astute, analytic and unemotional about spending is key to building a team and retaining core players (which admittedly is difficult when you are an owner and fan like I am). He is a columnist and has a radio show -- and his opinions are valued. To be clear, Randy got a raise as a part of his extension, and he earned it. We also are paying our former coach as his contract stipulated, and we will invest in additional coaches and development staff because we believe in taking a strong view of building infrastructure to support our players and our franchise. We have been investing in statistical analytics as well as in-house technology and have made additional investments in scouting. In the long term I want to build a new practice facility for the Wizards, much like that fabulous facility the Capitals have with Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which is one-of-a-kind and first class for our players, fans and the community. The Wizards deserve that as do the Wizards fans. We are changing and adding and investing every season. We have made some astute trades to create salary cap flexibility (as well as a trade where we took on a significant, long-term contract for an impact player in Nene), but we expected and have planned for our payroll to increase moving forward. All of this is part of our plan – will it work as we have scripted? Time will tell, but we judge ourselves by the progress we make each day toward our goals. The Capitals, however, spend near the salary cap ceiling. We operate a fantastic public facility, provide top-rate fan service and experience (as we do for the Wizards) and have an AHL partnership that makes other teams envious – all of this following a reboot of our team. We have spent money and made significant investments. And all of this is continuous – we will continue to have change, in players and in prospects. We have made bold salary commitments to our key players. In fact, one was the biggest deal in NHL history. I understand fans – and perhaps media – being upset that we aren’t playing for a championship; that is our goal and it is upsetting and frustrating when we lose. We defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions and then lost to the Eastern Conference’s top team during the regular season. The Capitals are striving to win a championship, and we have committed to that goal financially. It takes much more than money, however, to win in this league – or any professional sports league. But we do make changes, and we do spend money to support the franchise. I believe in setting a strategy and then allowing the president, general manager and coach to execute that agreed-upon strategy. And believe me, the strategy calls for spending money when it is advisable and congruent with our long-term objectives. We have a track record for this type of philosophy. Soon we will hire a new coach, which means even more change. I sometimes worry about the amount of change we have in our franchise as we add and subtract players, change systems, change voices. Change can be good, but it also may set you back. This is precisely why we scrutinize change and look at all of the variables. The Wizards actually have experienced a tremendous amount of change in a short period of time. A change in philosophy – from a veteran-laden team to a team comprising mostly young players. This strategy was somewhat delayed by the NBA work stoppage and needed to be incorporated into the new collective bargaining agreement. It is quite possibly that entering next season we would have nine or 10 players on rookie contracts (side note: we also had the second-highest paid player in the NBA on our roster). Some media may criticize us for too much change. They will question if our strategy is the correct one. They will critically analyze our draft selections and player signings. Some will break down our on-the-court pieces, wonder how quickly we can rebuild a team around young players and if we have the correct mix of veterans. Others will question our ownership and front-office leadership. I get it – media and fans love to debate those issues. It’s part of what makes sports so compelling. And well-reasoned commentary, criticism and conversation are healthy. We have made significant investments already – trading for Nene was one of those investments. He was the most coveted free agent last off season and signed a lucrative contract. He is paid extremely well; and he deserves it. Interestingly, the WaPo column also noted that our two best players – John Wall and Nene – requested that we bring back our coach and staff to lead the team. We take our player exit interviews seriously, and it gives us a barometer of their thinking. Sometimes players get coaches fired, but in this case the players had a vested interest and voice in bringing back the head coach. Obviously it wasn’t the only criteria used in making such a decision, but it was an important component. I actually feel good about that process. We all witnessed improvement – not just in terms of wins and losses, but how we played the game and the culture we were creating. I thought our team responded well to Randy in general and even took it up a notch after the acquisition of Nene. Our players wanted continuity. In some regards the storyline could have been: players wanted continuity because they are building trust in each other and the franchise, they witnessed progress and believe we were on the correct path for our franchise. Maybe that approach wouldn’t generate enough pixels. Thanks for taking the time to read this one – I blog to let people (fans and media) know what I am thinking and feeling.