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Wizards owner tempers expectation for team


POSTED: Oct 4, 2012 8:59 PM ET
UPDATED: Oct 4, 2012 11:00 PM ET

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— September wasn't kind to Ted Leonsis.

His successful NHL team, the Capitals, is locked out in a labor dispute. His WNBA Mystics ended the season with a 13-game losing streak and then finished last in the draft lottery. Even Madonna let him down, showing up so late for her concerts at the Verizon Center that he had to pay for the subway system to stay open for fans to get home.

And then came the news, just days before the opening of training camp, that marquee player John Wall would miss the first month or so of the Wizards' NBA season because of a knee injury.

Fortunately for his morale, this is a man who wrote a book called "The Business of Happiness."

"I kind of play the ball where it lies," the former AOL executive said Thursday night during a Wizards training camp practice. "In what other business do pingpong balls drive a lot of your success and make your investment worth more or less? Health? I never once said at AOL or Groupon in a board meeting: `That JavaScript coder blew his elbow out - that app that we need is never going to happen.'

"It's why when you overcome all those things and you win, life's so exhilarating."

Because of the NHL lockout, Leonsis limited his thoughts to the Wizards, who have been a test of his patience since he bought the team in the spring of 2010 following the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin. Washington is 43-105 under Leonsis' stewardship, and he said at the draft in June that another appearance in the lottery would be "unacceptable."

Now that camp is under way - with former No. 1 overall pick Wall on the sidelines nursing the early stages of a stress injury to his left knee cap - the expectations are a bit tempered.

"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."

The Wizards haven't won even one-third of their games in any season since their last playoff appearance in 2008, although Leonsis is optimistic the club will upgrade from the NBA's group of have-nots to the "haves." He's just not sure how long it will take.

For one thing, there's been a lot of turnover to digest. Only Cartier Martin, who played in eight games at the end of the 2009-10 season, remains from the roster that Leonsis inherited less than 2 1/2 years ago.

"It's very sobering to have to enter a new season basically where John Wall is your most tenured player," Leonsis said. "That was by design. We knew we'd have to rebuild the team and we did it fast, so I'm pleased that we are able to pull the Band-Aid off quickly. Now we have to see how this team jells and what we need on an ongoing basis to keep improving the team."

Leonsis repeatedly referenced the Capitals and baseball's Washington Nationals, teams that went through agonizing building processes to go from bottom to top.

"I know the fan base, and frankly the media, would like the magic wand waved and the team with three superstars here overnight," Leonsis said. "But I lost the magic wand. We're having to do it the old-fashioned authentic way, which is I think the way you're built to last."

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