The Washington Wizards are going through an initially surprise front office makeover early in the NBA offseason after the dismissal of president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard. After a several-week process, owner Ted Leonsis hired former Los Angeles Clippers GM Michael Winger as the President of Monumental Basketball overseeing the Wizards as well as WNBA’s Washington Mystics and G League’s Capital City Go-Go.
Winger has already hired former Atlanta Hawks president Travis Schlenk as his senior VP of player personnel and will soon hire a general manager who will focus specifically on the Wizards. All of this is to say Deni Avdija will be entering a make-or-break contract season in Washington under a new front office that did not draft him 9th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft making a contract extension before the season all the more unlikely.
As Avdija enters his first offseason with the summer available to him (Covid draft, fibular fracture, and groin injury the last three years) entering Year 4 in the NBA, he is poised to make a jump that many are excited to see what he can put together. The 22-year-old Israeli joined Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s podcast in May to talk about a variety of topics. Here are the highlights:
On when he dreamed of making the NBA:
“I didn’t really have it. I just wanted to be the best Deni I can be. I didn’t know where it was going to take me, what was going to be my path. I kind of rocked with it and when I saw the opportunity to go to the NBA, of course I wanted to challenge myself and be the best that I can so that’s what I did.”
On his rookie season playing with Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal:
“I didn’t have the ball as much. It was tough, but I like the challenges. I like that I don’t get everything right away, that I have to work hard for it. It was a good experience for me to learn to play off the ball.”
On the next steps in his game:
“That’s my next step mentally. Not be so down on myself when I have bad stretches. Try to be more consistent, I feel like that’s what I’m missing right now.”
“I feel like I’m getting better every day.”
On the pressure of representing an entire country:
“I think it was a little tougher for me [dealing with expectations] because I came from a country where I have the whole country on my back. I’m the only Jewish player, Israeli player in the league. So people really put me under the microscope. When I have a bad game, everyone is talking about it. Everybody knows that. Sometimes there’s pressure, I felt it my first year. And then I knew how to manipulate it to have an advantage from it. Because I have supporters everywhere. New York City is crazy, but LA, Miami, even Oklahoma City. Insane, we’re grateful, we got countries behind us.”
“In the beginning, it was hard because when you have a bad game, then the next day, ‘Deni had a bad game, he’s in a bad stretch.’ Friends talk about it, family talks about it because it’s such a big deal because you’re the only guy.”
“I feel like people look up to me, I want to represent my country, I want to be All-Star. I have dreams for myself, I want to be at the top. I know my country is behind me and they look at every step I make. Sometimes I do feel pressure, but I manage with the years to maintain it.”
On what he has learned so far in his NBA career:
“You got to be your number one supporter. In the end of the day, only you know what you’re capable of doing and only you know the limits, nobody else knows.”
“Enjoy the process. Bad stretches don’t last forever, good stretches don’t last forever. Enjoy both of them because both of them are important for you to become a better player and a better person.”
After taking painkillers to fight through a severe groin injury last summer to compete in EuroBasket, it seems unlikely that Avdija will play for the Israeli national team this year, but there are still three months until training camp for the wing player to continue improving his game.