How the Wizards’ staff works together in the bubble: “Everyone has to help out”
With nearly two weeks on the Disney World campus under their belt, Wizards players, coaches and staff have grown accustomed to the new normal that is life inside the bubble. Those on the outside have seen highlights and the fun moments – fishing, boat rides and a cornhole tournament. But further behind the scenes, making those moments of fun and recreation possible, are the tireless efforts of the Wizards coaches and staff that made the trip.
The Wizards travel party, detailed in an entry of The Wizney World Blog, is wide-ranging, but limited considering the amount of time the team will spend on the Orlando campus. The travel party is about 20 staffers short of what the team would normally send for a standard road trip, a trip that might last a week or at the most. Washington’s stay on the Disney campus, however, will last, at minimum, six weeks – and could go far longer. Finding ways to make the necessary behind-the-scenes logistics run smoothly is one of the biggest challenges the Wizards and the other 21 teams participating in the restart face.
So far, the best solution to the problem has been simple: teamwork.
“Our young players and our coaches and staff and our performance team – we’re chipping in,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “Everyone has to help out because we have a few things that we’re shorthanded (on), but I think with the help of everybody, we’re able to do that…I feel for all 22 teams in the same position, but like I said, I’m glad that we have a team where we’re committed to helping each other.”
“Everybody’s loading and unloading every day,” said Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard on a recent episode of the Off The Bench podcast. “We don’t have a home court. We don’t have a place that we can set up and leave everything so every day we’re loading in and loading out.”
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The ever-present sense of collaboration in the bubble goes beyond just inter-squad sharing of responsibilities – it extends from team to team. The 22 franchises in the bubble are sharing more than just hotels. They are sharing courts, meal spaces, select medical facilities, recreational areas and more.
There are several practice courts that are shared among teams. The Magic, Heat, and Pacers gave their courts to the NBA to build out in hotel ballrooms and help give more court space. The weight rooms at the practice sites are shared, but cleaned intensely. Same goes for the basketballs and court spaces. Otherwise, each team has their own meal and training room at their hotel. Doctors, psychologists, and recreational space are shared.
“There are lot of smart people working on things to make sure our workloads are in the right space,” Brooks said. “It’s not like we have all the stuff we would have in our own practice facility, but the NBA has done a pretty good job of supplying us we’ve got an incredible two courts and a weight room and a training room and it’s been almost as good as any facility in the league – and there’s like seven of them.”
Sheppard credits staffers across the board – coaching, medical, equipment, public relations and content – with pitching in to help with daily operations.
“Everybody understands this is a family and we need to help each other out,” Sheppard said. “It doesn’t matter what job there is. It’s not beneath anybody to jump in and help out.”
The medical staff as a whole, which accounts for eight spots in the team’s 37-person travel party, has been tasked with enough to write a book. Along with the team’s doctors, Chief of Athlete Care & Performance Daniel Medina and Head Athletic Trainer Jeff Bangs have been involved with endless day-to-day responsibilities since the restart process began. Whether it be testing, arranging cold tubs, or building a gym next to the team’s meal room, the medical team has been swamped.
Mike Williams, a player development coach who started with the Capital City Go-Go earlier this season, was integral in the team’s Zoom workouts during the hiatus for ball-handling drills. While in Orlando, he’s being asked to take on a lot of the video duties, receiving assistance from video coordinator Ryan Lumpkin back in D.C.
Director of Coaching Operations Eric Sebastian plays a behind-the-scenes role in all aspects of the team’s activities. He plans out all the logistics of the team’s schedule and works with the hotel and our NBA liaison to keep the entire operation running smoothly and efficiently. That job has taken on an entirely new meaning as the Wizards’ daily operations have been turned upside down by the league’s health-centric protocols.
Equipment manager Dave Avery may have one of the toughest jobs of all. Under normal circumstances, the equipment team consists of two staffers on the road, plus the opposing team’s attendants, and four staffers at home, plus even more attendants. Avery, though, is flying solo.
“I can’t say enough about the efforts of Dave Avery, the best equipment guy in the business, for everything that he’s done,” Sheppard said.
“Dave Avery has done a great job of making sure everyone has everything they need,” Brooks said, shouting out the longtime equipment man during a recent press conference.
With just about half the coaching staff in Orlando, even Brooks himself has taken his participation in team operations to new levels.
“One of things I have to do is stretch before practice because I’m participating in some of the drills and I don’t want to pull a muscle,” Brooks said. “So it’s kind of been fun that way. I kind of love it. That’s one of those things, as a head coach, you kind of miss. As an assistant coach, you’re hands on, you have a lot of sweat equity, you’re with these guys and developing them. Now (as a head coach), I’m around them, but I’m not really hands on. So I’m able to do some of the drills and coach (David Adkins) has been putting me in and let me participate in some of it.”
“My passing has been horrible,” Brooks continued.
The teamwork goes well beyond the boundaries of Disney World campus, too. Back in D.C., front office staffers are pitching in from a distance to help keep the wheels turning.
“(Assistant GM of Strategy and Analytics) Brett (Greenberg) and the analytics staff, our strategic group is helping the coaches assemble the game plan,” Sheppard said. “We have eight opponents here and every game is very, very important. Right now, they’re dissecting every possible thing.”
“(Assistant coach for Analytics) Dean Oliver is putting all the stuff together for Coach Brooks and his staff, in conjunction with Brett (Greenberg) and (Manager of Basketball Strategy and Analytics) Ben Eidelberg, (Coordinator of Basketball Strategy and Analytics) Sam Kaplan and everybody, (Director of Basketball Operations) Greg Kershaw that puts stuff together. Our video group, led by Ryan Lumpkin, is assembling all kinds of different things and sending stuff to our players every day. Everybody is trying to make an impact from where they’re at. I can’t say enough about the staff. Our scouting staff – Johnny Rogers on the pro side and Frank Ross on the college side – are getting ready for the NBA Draft in October. We’re getting ready for free agency in October.”
The all-hands-on-deck approach is applied with one goal in mind: help the players keep their focus on basketball. Brooks and Sheppard have talked at length about cherishing and making the most of the opportunity to play in the league’s restart – and how impactful it can be for the development of such a young roster.
That development doesn’t stop when the team walks off the court, either. For the Wizards, the time in Orlando has provided an unprecedented amount of opportunity for team bonding, including bus rides, meals, recreational activities and more.
“We get to spend a lot more time (together),” Brooks said. “To me, I look at is as road trip, but extended. We have usually anywhere from a seven- to 10-day road trip. This is going to be a lot longer. Now, this allows us to spend a lot of time in the meal room together…That’s been a pleasant surprise. We get conversations around meals. You don’t get that as often at home or even on the road in a normal season.”