Former Clippers general manager Michael Winger talks about his tenure in Los Angeles

Clippers general manager Michael Winger was working with a group of team executives late July 5, 2019, outside a temporary office space in Manhattan Beach when an earthquake briefly interrupted their plan to change the course of franchise history.

The earthquake struck as the group tried to put in place the final details to trade with Oklahoma City for All-Star Paul George and secure the commitment of the free agent and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. , Kawhi Leonard. Seeing windows shaking and tiles falling from the ceiling, Winger and his fellow Clippers raced to what they hoped was a structurally integral area.

“We all found ourselves on a flight of stairs, in our minds, running for our lives,” Winger said.

Once the tremor subsided, they raced to their makeshift workspace and conference calls to secure a surprising transaction.

The public was unaware of this moment, in part because Winger kept such a low profile as the team’s second-highest-ranked basketball executive. He did not hold public interviews. In six seasons, the team has kept just one headshot from Winger. But other NBA teams knew a lot about Winger and his fame to understand the collective bargaining agreement and the league’s salary cap. A few teams have verified his interest in leaving the Clippers. Each time he stayed.

Until wednesday. After weeks of conversations with Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, Winger has agreed to become Washington’s president of Monumental Basketball, a role in which he will oversee all of Washington’s basketball operations — the Wizards, Mystics of the WNBA, the G League subsidiary Capital City Go-Go. , and all facilities used by these teams.

In his first interview since being hired, Winger told The Times on Thursday that he left now because he had reached a point in his career, which included previous stops in Cleveland and Oklahoma City, where he wondered if he would have the opportunity to be a senior executive.

“And if I ever have the opportunity to do it, will I have the opportunity to do it for the right owner, for the right fanbase and the right market?” he said. “And I think rarely in professional sports do those opportunities arise where almost all of your boxes, if not all of your boxes, are checked. And it was, I think, the rare and extremely lucky opportunity for someone like me to tick all the boxes: ownership, market, fanbase, already a talented team.

Geography helped. Winger lived in Baltimore during his senior year of law school while also working for a sports agent, and had fond memories of driving to DC to visit friends.

“I just felt like if I ever had to challenge myself now is the time and Ted is the right person,” he said. “I think DC is the right fan base.”

Winger plans to officially end his role with the Clippers next week before fully focusing on the Wizards. He will leave behind a six-year tenure in which Winger, as part of an all-new front office under Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, traded Blake Griffin to bring the Clippers out of their Lob City era. to that of Leonard and George in less than 18 months.

He said he was leaving very happy that team owner Steve Ballmer was “happy with the team” and progress at a new arena in Inglewood, due to open in 2024, and that the team — once a place staffers and league players shunned under the ownership of Donald Sterling — had become an attractive destination.

In February, he was one of many key voices supporting the addition of guard Russell Westbrook, whom he knew well from Oklahoma City, “loved” that Westbrook finally joined and revived his career.

Much shorter, he said, was the list of plans that had yet to come to fruition. Injuries have cut short each of the team’s last three playoff series, including in 2021, when the deepest playoffs in franchise history ended in the conference finals — a run he’s confident will she would have gone further if she was in good health.

From left, Clippers center Mason Plumlee, forward Kawhi Leonard and forward Paul George watch from the bench as time runs out in overtime against the Denver Nuggets Feb. 26 in Denver.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

“I would have liked to win one or more championships in the four years we had Paul and Kawhi, but every team that tries to win a championship and doesn’t want to win a championship,” Winger said. . “I mean, definitely winning at the top level would have been great. What else? That’s really it.

“Personally, I’m going to be sad not to live the number of years that Paul and Kawhi have been together because I think they’re a championship tandem. I deeply believe that these two guys, when they’re in good health, can absolutely win a championship, so I’m kind of sad that I won’t be there when they finally do.

His challenge with the Wizards is no different than what he entered with the Clippers in 2017 — turning a team with a history of playoff shortcomings into a viable contender.

The Wizards last made the playoffs in 2021, their only playoff appearance since 2018. The franchise hasn’t made it past the second round since 1979. The winger is familiar with the turnaround coach, as Wes Unseld Jr. interviewed the Clippers for their best job of 2020.

During an interview with Washington, Winger said relatively little time was spent plotting his immediate thoughts for a slightly below luxury fee roster with 13 players under contract. This is partly because Winger will recruit and hire executives responsible for each team, and the plan for the Wizards will be worked out later by this future executive and Winger.

“We’re going to be looking for one person to lead the Wizards,” he said.

In the whirlwind of his previous 24 hours since his hiring became public knowledge, he had yet to speak to any players. That includes All-Star shooter Bradley Beal, one of the league’s leading scorers but who has struggled to stay healthy. The maximum five-year contract he signed in 2020 includes a no-trade clause.

“His former coaches, his former teammates, they all have tremendous regard for him, and he is unequivocally a superstar,” Winger said. “The hardest thing to do in the NBA is to acquire superstar talent and it’s even harder to acquire superstar talent with your level of character. And so, I think that’s a starting point extremely, extremely lucky. So for me, it’s really exciting to have someone like Brad on the team.

Most of his conversations with Leonsis, Winger said, were spent finding where they aligned with what he called an overarching vision for building an organization. Winger value process. Leonsis too, he said. Leonsis wanted to hear Winger’s thoughts on developing a “culture” that could lead to lasting success.

He had a key role with a similar effort before, in Los Angeles. Washington presents a familiar task – with, perhaps, fewer earthquakes.

Leonsis “is ready to deploy both the resources and the patience to gradually build a highly functional and adaptive organization, and if you have that, the results almost take care of themselves,” Winger said. “And I was drawn to that vision. And he demonstrated that with the Capitals [who won the 2018 Stanley Cup].

“The proof is there. It’s just about taking some of those principles, injecting the equivalent of the nuances of the NBA into those principles, and hopefully building something solid, solid, attracting good players, attract good staff, keep good players, keep good staff and ultimately win basketball games.

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