Michael Winger has been at or near the top of the “when is someone going to give him his own team” list for a long time. A right-hand man to both Sam Presti in Oklahoma City and then the GM of the Clippers with Lawrence Frank, wherever he has gone his teams have won.
The Washington Wizards are giving him that chance.
Multiple reports have Winger about to be named the new president of Monumental Basketball, with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN breaking the news. What this means is he is now the guy with the hammer making decisions for the Wizards, as well as overseeing the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the Wizards’ G-League team, the Go-Go.
Winger deserves this job. He was with Sam Presti and the Thunder through the Durant/Westbrook/Harden years, then came to the Clippers and helped them transition from the Lob City era to the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era. Winger has been a key figure in front offices that have put together winning and contending teams for years, and he is well-liked and respected around the NBA.
The Wizards had Ernie Grunfeld ensconced as the GM/president for more than a decade — even as his decisions left the team stagnant — and when he was pushed out owner Ted Leonsis kept things in-house with Tommy Sheppard. None of that has worked, the Wizards have missed the playoffs four of the past five years, and Leonsis wants a team that gets into the postseason.
The biggest question facing Winger is simply this: Will he be given the freedom and resources to make radical roster changes over the coming years, even if that means a rebuild to focus on the long term?
The buzz out of Washington is yes, but what happens when push comes to shove for owner Ted Leonsis? At his urging, this has been a franchise desperately trying just to be good enough to get into the postseason — one often thinking short term — rather than looking to build a sustainable threat and maybe a contender around an All-NBA level talent (when healthy) in Beal. Winger knows how to win, but will he be under orders just to make the playoffs, or can he reshape this roster into something more serious?
The Wizards are locked into four more years of Bradley Beal‘s five-year max deal — where Beal has a no-trade clause — and this summer with both Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis able to become free agents (both have player options and could be extended or re-signed by the team). Is a core Beal/Porzingis/Kuzma core what the Wizards want to build around, or is the idea to re-sign Kuzma and Porzingis to contracts that can be traded and start to flip this roster into something more than an okay playoff team if everyone stays healthy? In the short term, this team needs more shooting around its stars but operating as an over-the-cap team trades are more likely than signing free agents.
Washington also has the No. 8 pick in this June’s NBA Draft (plus a couple of second-rounders).
Winger has work to do, but this is a franchise with potential. And it’s his.