“All of my energies and everything that I put forth in the summer was to try and put this community and this team [the Charlotte Bobcats] in a better position to try and win a championship.”
Michael Jordan in an interview to Matt Rochinski of Bobcats.com on December 14, 2011
Michael Jordan, to me, will remain the greatest player ever to have played the game of basketball. I don’t say this as some lofty statement that could as easily mean the same for Jesse Owens in the field of athletics, but as a deep-rooted belief that has been cultivated from many years of watching Jordan on the basketball court and those that followed him. He simply exists on a plane above those who played the game before, with or after him.
MJ’s handling of the Bobcats, though, has not rendered the same success.
As of February 21, the Bobcats are 4-27 in their 2011-12 regular season campaign and are, therefore, holders of the worst record in the league. After their win against Golden State on Jan. 14, the Bobcats lost 16 games in a row before a win against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 17 prevented them from becoming the 28th team in NBA history to drop at least 17 straight games.
But can the state of the Bobcats franchise be blamed on Jordan alone? Didn’t Jordan only take over the team in early 2010 while the franchise’s travails started a long time before that?
A recent article posted on SI.com on Feb. 16 has me think differently. Writing on Jordan’s track record with the franchise, the article points out that Jordan took over as minority owner and was given full control of the basketball operations of the Bobcats in 2006. Since then, according to the Associated Press, “Jordan has selected eight players in the first round, but only four remain with the team. Three are no longer in the league. Arguably the biggest draft day blunder was selecting Gonzaga's Adam Morrison with the third overall pick in 2006 when they could have had Rudy Gay. Drafting Alexis Ajinca 20th overall in 2008 was another flop, especially after giving up a first-round pick to Denver to get him. The Ajinca trade is just one of 17 in the Jordan era, more than any team in the league over the last six years. Those dealt include Emeka Okafor, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Jackson and All Star Gerald Wallace.”
The Bobcats, meanwhile, have asked their fans to be patient. In an article posted on Chron.com, writer Steve Reed quoted Charlotte Director of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins as saying, “Being a competitor you want to win. So it's hard. You want to think of ways and how you can position yourself for the short term as opposed to long term, but you have to stay patient avoid that kneejerk reaction. You have to stay the course and see it through and try to develop your young guys.”
But will patience alone change Charlotte’s fortunes? The franchise currently ranks lowest in points scored per game (86.45) among the 30 teams in the league. It has the worst difference (-14.32) between points scored and points allowed to opponents per game. The Bobcats then fare second (.417) and fourth poorest (.302) in field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages respectively while their rebounding (39.90 RPG) ranks amongst the bottom five in the league.
What is even more disappointing is that none of Charlotte’s players count amongst the top 50 in the 2011-12 efficiency leaders’ ladder. Guard D.J. Augustin, who has only played 20 of the Bobcats’ 31 games this season, weighs in best at 93rd with an efficiency rating of +13.3. The three names that Jordan spoke optimistically of in his interview to Matt Rochinski were guard Kemba Walker, forward Corey Maggette and forward Bismack Biyombo, all post far lower efficiency ratings of +11.94, +8.17 and +6.70 respectively. Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats’ scoring leader this season with 15.0 PPG, disappoints, similarly, with an efficiency rating of 12.33.
The only silver lining for the Bobcats is that if they maintain status quo, they'll be around $20 million under next year's salary cap. That means that the Bobcats can really be active in the free-agency class of 2012. But will money alone help the franchise to snare a couple of big names? I should think not.
Remember this is the NBA of the 21st century where superstars are increasingly coming together to improve their chances of winning a ring. The Boston Celtics started the trend, but since then the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks have highlighted that the path to the title is, perhaps, easier when you have at least two All Stars on the team. Should Dwight Howard join Deron Williams in New Jersey or Kobe Bryant in LA or Derrick Rose in Chicago or, perhaps, even Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, it will be the ultimate validation of this theory. Sadly, at this point, the Bobcats don’t seem to have any such talent to entice other superstars to come their way, Kemba Walker notwithstanding.
Moreover, until the Bobcats make the right moves in the draft, it remains highly difficult to imagine some of the more established names in the league heading towards Charlotte, a small-market team that is unlikely to offer superstars the same kind of endorsement opportunities that exist in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York.
The other matter concerning Jordan’s position at the helm of the Bobcats’ ownership is his handling of the head coaching situation. After Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown stepped down as the head coach of the franchise in December 2010 following a 9-19 start to the season, the Bobcats appointed Paul Silas as interim coach of the franchise and then gave him a one-year extension in February 2011. This was absolutely fine as Silas engineered a temporary turn around in the Bobcats’ fortunes and helped the team finish 34-48 as Charlotte went 25-29 in their last 54 games of the 2010-11 campaign.
But now, as the Bobcats struggle, Silas, who has an overall mediocre record of .457 as a coach, should be in jeopardy of losing his job. If the Washington Wizards could fire Flip Saunders in January after the franchise got off to a 2-15 start, Jordan may have to do the same with Silas.
Way back in 1972-73, the Philadelphia 76ers went 9-73 to post the worst regular-season record in NBA history. Although the Bobcats will miss being compared to that 76ers’ team because of the lockout-shortened season, they are in need of making some bold decisions now in order to turn the franchise around.
Otherwise, the Charlotte experience may forever be remembered as a misstep in the illustrious career of the great Michael Jordan.
All stats and regular season standings are after games played on February 21, 2012 (IST)