Two years ago, Ted Leonsis, the majority owner of the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, and the Washington Mystics shared his 10 point plan to building a championship team, with Hogs Haven, our SB nation blog for the Washington Redskins. Though this plan was written as a plan to build a Stanley Cup contender, the writer of the post at Hogs Haven believed that this rebuilding plan was very applicable to the NFL, and I agree with that.
Below are the 10 points that Ted listed for building a championship winning team, I did modify a couple lines, one in point 2 because he mentioned the Stanley Cup, and point 7 because one sentence looked incomplete and I put down the idea that he most likely intended to say.
1. Ask yourself the big question: "Can this team--as constructed--ever win a championship?" If the answer is yes -- stay the course and try to find the right formula -- if the answer is no, then plan to rebuild. Don't fake it--really do the analytics and be brutally honest. Once you have your answer, develop the game plan to try to REALLY win a championship. Always run away from experts that say, "We are just one player away." Recognize there is no easy and fast systemic fix. It will be a bumpy ride--have confidence in the plan--"trust and verify: the progress -- but don't deviate from the plan."
2. Once you make the decision to rebuild--be transparent. Articulate the plan and sell it loudly and proudly to all constituencies, the media, the organization, the fans, your partners, family and anyone who will listen. Agree to what makes for a successful rebuild--in our case it is "a great young team with upside that can make the playoffs for a decade and win [a championship] or two."
3. Once you decide to rebuild--bring the house down to the foundation--be consistent with your plan--and with your asks--we always sought to get "a pick and a prospect" in all of our trades. We believed that volume would yield better results than precision. We decided to trade multiple stars at their prime or peak to get a large volume of young players. Young players will get better as they age, so you have built in upside. Youngsters push vets to play better to keep their jobs, and they stay healthier, and they are more fun--less jaded by pro sports.
4. Commit to building around the draft. Invest in scouting, development, and a system. Articulate that system and stay with it so that all players feel comfortable-- know the language-- know what is expected of them-- read the Oriole Way*. It worked and it is a great tutorial. Draft players that fit the system, not the best player. Draft the best player for the system. Don't deviate or get seduced by agents, media demands, or by just stats or hype. Envision how this player will slide into your system.
5. Be patient with young players-- throw them in the pool to see if they can swim. Believe in them. Show them loyalty. Re-sign the best young players to long term high priced deals. Show the players you are very loyal to them as compared to free agents who achieved highly for another team. Teach them. Celebrate their successes. Use failures as a way to teach and improve. Coaches must be tough but kind to build confidence.
6. Make sure the GM, coach, owner and business folks are on the EXACT same page as to deliverables, metrics of success, ultimate goal, process and measured outcomes. Always meet to discuss analytics and don't be afraid of the truth that the numbers reveal. Manage to outcomes. Manage to let the GM and coach NOT be afraid of taking risks, and make sure there are no surprises. Over communicate. Act like an ethnic family--battle around the dinner table--never in public. Be tight as a team. Protect and enhance each other. Let the right people do their jobs.
7. No jerks allowed. Implement a no jerk policy. Draft and develop and keep high character people. Team chemistry is vital to success. Make sure the best and highest paid players are coachable, show respect to the system, want to be in the city, love to welcome new, young players to the team, have respect for the fan base, show joy in their occupation, get the system, believe in the coaches, have fun in practice, and want to be gym rats. Dump [players who become distractions as soon as an opportunity presents itself]. Life is too short to drink bad wine.
8. Add veterans to the team via shorter term deals as free agents. Signing long-term, expensive deals for vets is very risky. We try to add vets to the mix for two year or three year deals. They fill in around our young core. They are very important for leadership, but they must complement the young core (NOT try to overtake them or be paid more than them). Identify and protect the core. Add veterans to complement them, not visa versa.
9. Measure and improve. Have shared metrics--know what the progress is--and where it ranks on the timeline-- be honest in all appraisals; don't be afraid to trade young assets for other draft picks to build back end backlog-- know the aging of contracts-- protect "optionality" to make trades at deadlines or in off season; never get in cap jail. Having dry powder is very important to make needed moves.
10. Never settle--never rest--keep on improving. Around the edges to the plan, have monthly, quarterly and annual check ups. Refresh the plan when needed but for the right reasons-- "how are we doing against our metrics of success and where are we on our path to a championship." Never listen to bloggers, media, so called experts--to thine own self be true. Enjoy the ride.
Last June, Ted and his partners (who include Sheila Johnson, the Mystics' managing partner completed a purchase of about 56% of the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center (Ted's group previously owned about 44% of the NBA team and the building), and given how bad the Wizards have been last few seasons, they are in the middle of rebuilding them in a way similar to the Capitals.
As most WNBA fans know by now, the Washington Mystics did not retain their general manager Angela Taylor, and their head coach Julie Plank for the 2011 season, despite being the 2010 Eastern Conference Regular Season champions, which is equivalent to a Division Title in the NBA. Sheila Johnson called this a cost cutting move to "keep the franchise alive," but it sounds absurd when ownership is made of many wealthy partners and after all, they just completed the purchase of an NBA team, AND the building they play in, not to mention that they added new partners. The Mystics later traded away Lindsey Harding on Draft Day and Katie Smith earlier today, which I believe may be partly because of the front office changes though they will never say that publicly.
While it is easy to say that the Mystics got the bottom end of the stick of these trades (which I find easy to do myself), this is still a Ted Leonsis owned team, and I wouldn't think that the Mystics would use a completely different plan to build a winning team as compared with what the Capitals and the Wizards are doing, even if Sheila Johnson is the primary decision maker as opposed to Ted. After comparing their moves against the plan Ted outlined, I believe they are following most of these ten points given their circumstances, with the exception of points 2 and 6, which would likely be addressed as the season comes around. There are some typos in it, since I was just checking off against the steps at the time and evaluating the moves of the past several months on the fly.
I think the general concepts laid out in this plan are applicable not only for the pro teams in Washington, but I think they can be applicable to any professional sports franchise, including the other 11 teams in the WNBA not named the Washington Mystics. Do you guys think this plan to rebuild or to go for it all (the plan deals with both) is truly applicable? Also, how do you feel other WNBA teams have done this offseason when their moves and strategies are checked off against Ted's plan? (You can include the past several seasons)