The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, making him the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s new structuring.
Sheppard, 50, has been the interim president of the Wizards since April 2, when Ernie Grunfeld, who had held the position for 16 seasons, was fired. Under Sheppard’s direction, the team remolded its roster through the draft, free agency and a trade that emphasized the Wizards’ new vision to add young and developing players.
According to several people close to the situation, the Wizards decided to move forward with Sheppard — although a formal contract has yet to be signed — after a search that included at least four candidates from other organizations.
As general manager, Sheppard will lead the day-to-day operations, such as running the draft, making trades, communicating with players’ representatives and working with Coach Scott Brooks and Brooks’s staff.
Over the next month, Sheppard is expected to make several additions within the basketball operations department and coaching staff. The Wizards have had preliminary discussions with Jarell Christian, who coached the team’s G League franchise, the Capital City Go-Go, last season, and Michael Longabardi, a defensive-minded assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as potential additions to the coaching staff, according to several people familiar with the talks.
The biggest piece to get in place, however, was the GM, and Sheppard’s expected elevation brings to a close a search that lasted more than three months.
In late April, the Wizards kicked off their interviewing process with former Houston Rockets assistant general manager Gersson Rosas, executive Danny Ferry, Oklahoma City Thunder Vice President of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver and, of course, Sheppard. Following his interview with the Wizards, Rosas was named team president of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By May, the Wizards seemed to find their top option in Tim Connelly, a Baltimore native and head of the Denver Nuggets’ basketball operations. Connelly got his professional start in Washington but opted to remain with the Nuggets, forcing the Wizards to move on and remain in search mode over the next several months. In June, several news outlets reported the Wizards’ pursuit of Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri. But Ted Leonsis, founder and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards and Capitals, countered those claims.
“We have not commented on the many rumors surrounding potential candidates during this process, but I wanted to make an exception in this case out of respect to the Raptors organization as they celebrate their well-deserved championship,” Leonsis said in the statement to The Washington Post. “Any reports that we have interest in Masai Ujiri as a candidate are simply not true, and we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process.”
According with a person close to the situation, Leonsis met with another general manager candidate at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. However, Leonsis ultimately chose Sheppard for his performance this offseason and his global network within the sport.
The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.
In Sheppard’s situation, he had served as Grunfeld’s lieutenant for many years but also carried a wide load of responsibilities. During 2018 free agency, Sheppard championed Thomas Bryant, who at the time was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers after spending the majority of his rookie season in the G League.
In Washington, Bryant became a fill-in starter for the injured Dwight Howard and breakout performer in the otherwise disappointing season. Bryant played with energy and passion throughout his 53 starts and averaged 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. On June 30, the Wizards rushed to re-sign Bryant, proclaiming him their top priority of free agency and an example of the personality the team wants moving forward — a hard-working and hungry roster of younger players.
This summer, the Wizards added seven players with one or fewer years of NBA service, including the selection of Japanese-born Rui Hachimura with the No. 9 pick in the draft. Also, ahead of free agency, Sheppard worked a deal to acquire Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones from the Lakers in a three-team trade that included the New Orleans Pelicans. As part of the deal, the Wizards did not have to part with an asset and merely sent $1.1 million to the Pelicans.
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