How Leonsis makes the grade

Irene Pollin, Ted Leonsis

Last week we discussed the bizarre logic behind the Wizards signing John Wall.  Dave follows this up with insights on the fascinating article at Comcast Washington, which had some “perspective” from the Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

No time like the present

Leonsis on why it was important sign Wall now:

One of the reasons we wanted to do this and do it early is to remove the I-need-to-get-stats. This is such a stats-oriented league and to have the focus on what the team needs to accomplish.

Dave’s take: Let me re-state what Leonsis appears to be saying.

In this league we reward people for producing stats (i.e. points) that are not necessarily related to wins (i.e. what the team wants). Because we do this, Wall would have an incentive this next year to focus on his points and not on team wins. Of course, we could correct this by rewarding players for focusing on team wins. But instead of doing this, we give people lots of money in the hope that maybe then they will focus on team wins.

Check the Stats

Leonsis on Wall’s analytics:

Ernie and the staff crunched a lot of numbers. There’s a lot of analytics that go into it to show where John ranks and what his upside his. … I thought he was our foundational player and that he deserved to be a max player.

Dave’s Take: What analytics are we talking about here? Certainly nothing in the box score says Wall is an elite player at this point. Plus-minus stats might say this. But as I have noted many times in the past, these are very questionable stats.  It is very possible that Wall will become a productive player in the future.  Nothing in the box score, though, says this is definitely going to happen (and again, non-box score stuff has issues).

Summing Up

Dave’s day job is a professor. This involves a lot of evaluation. Students work is graded. The work Dave sends out to be published also gets graded. In fact, this idea is nothing new. In most businesses, people give an argument and it is evaluated. Based on this evaluation, we decide to pay people or not, or to use an idea or not. Dave had a curious thought regarding Leonsis’ evaluations.

Dave’s take: Leonsis — who has endorsed Stumbling on Wins — seems to be making some very questionable arguments here. On the one hand he worries that Wall needs to get paid so he can focus on team wins. On the other hand, he seems to suggest that Wall is already producing team wins. One wonders if anyone in meetings with Leonsis asks: “Is there any requirement that your arguments be consistent?”

This question gets at an issue in the structure of a firm.  Because “the boss” has the power to fire people he/she is working with, it is very difficult for those people to offer criticism of the ideas the boss offers.  When the boss doesn’t hear criticism, one suspects this person often concludes what they are saying makes sense.   In this particular instance, I do not think Leonsis is making as much sense as he would like.  And since his employees may not be inclined to step up, I thought it might be useful if I just laid out these quotes for him and others to think about.

So once again… does it seem like Leonsis is making clear arguments about Wall’s contract? My sense is that his arguments come up short.

Of course it is possible that I am wrong.  But before you correct me ask yourself, can I fire you?  If I can, then be quiet.  Everyone else, though, have at it :)

-Dave w/ editing and comments from Dre

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