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Wizards' Leonsis prepared to own up to it

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Ted Leonsis found the silver lining in John Wall's knee injury. The Wizards owner was able to have an informal shootaround with his franchise cornerstone point guard.

It was a reminder that it has been two years since the two were together at Patriot Center at the beginning of Wall's rookie year. Leonsis said he was not only able to identify the improved release point in Wall's jumper but also that his physiognomy -- Leonsis' word -- has changed.

"He's bigger," Leonsis said. "His voice is deeper. He's becoming a man, and you realize he should still be in college."

After his initial trepidation over Wall's injury, Leonsis was relieved to find out it would keep him out eight weeks instead of surgery that might have cost him the season. But Leonsis also tempered his assertion last spring that ending up in the NBA Draft Lottery again would be unacceptable.

"We would all find it unacceptable if we finished with the second- or third-worst record in the NBA this year," Leonsis said. "That would be a failure, and the failure would start with me. I think we're much better positioned. I think we will get much better because our young players have now been seasoned."

Like Wall, Leonsis is in his third season of changes and upgrades to strengthen the Wizards. He hopes to build a practice facility soon, and upgrades are being made to the locker room while the team is in Fairfax. Leonsis is most proud that Wall's status as the team's longest-tenured player is proof the roster has turned over completely since he took over as owner in 2010.

"People think we have the capacity to be a good team," Leonsis said, referring to Kevin Seraphin as a sleeper center and rookie Bradley Beal as a key piece going forward. "Certainly compared to our last couple of years that the team is trending in the right direction."

The next step is for the Wizards to retain their core of young players and continue to make the right trades when necessary. Only then will a prized free agent decide Washington is a destination NBA city.

"All the stars and the moon will have to align the right way, but I'm not shy about spending money and going and getting the right player," Leonsis said. "... This offseason wasn't that time. [Free agents] don't know our identity as a team yet."

In the meantime, Leonsis said he speaks and meets regularly with Nationals owner Mark Lerner.

"I look at the Nationals' arc, and it gives me hope and strength," he said.

Unfailingly positive, Leonsis has taken Wall's injury in stride with the NHL lockout, the Mystics falling to fourth in the WNBA Draft Lottery and even having to pay to keep Metro open when Madonna's recent Verizon Center shows ran late.

"I kind of play the ball where it lies," Leonsis said. "That's the thing about sports. It's what I've said for 12 years. It's the hardest industry, business I know. What other business do pingpong balls drive a lot of your success and make your investment worth more or less? It's why when you overcome all those things and you win that it's so exhilarating."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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