The Last Dance was a dramatic insight into the psyche of Michael Jordan, one of the greatest competitors the NBA has ever seen. Two decades later, the greatest player in NBA history has shaken off his brilliance as a scorer and has become a front office question mark. His critics consider some of his personnel moves disastrous. His defenders say he just needs time but it’s been ten years. Most agree Michael Jordan’s impact on the Charlotte Hornets has been, for the most part, mediocre, and he has to take responsibility for the Hornets failures. Simply put, Jordan’s draft picks fall into the category of great (Kemba Walker), average (Michael Kidd Gilchrist), and what the hell is he doing (Adam Morrison)?
If Jordan has proven anything it is that NBA front-office success is complicated. It is more than summoning up desire and will and creating villains to slay. The NBA is in the talent acquisition business. Acquiring talent, particularly within the confines of a small market team with a hot and cold fan base, and small revenue streams, is not the same thing as hitting a game-winner in Cleveland over Craig Ehlo.
Jordan bought the Bobcats in March 2010 after owning a minority stake in the team since 2006. Since then, they have won 3 playoff games.
Jordan drafted Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris in 2011. Harris was traded on draft night and eventually became a max player for the Sixers. Walker was a 3-time All-Star for Charlotte but left in free agency. He, too, became a max player.
In 2012, Charlotte drafted Michael Kidd Gilchrist with the number two pick instead of drafting Bradly Beal or Damian Lillard. They drafted Cody Zeller with the number 4 pick in the 2014 draft instead of selecting C.J. McCollum or Giannis Antetokoumpo. Jordan didn’t think much of Zach Lavine, Devin Booker, or Pascal Siakam either.
In 2012-13 the Bobcats won 21 games and Jordan made his biggest impact when he convinced seven-footer Al Jefferson to come to Charlotte as a free agent. Subsequently, the Bobcats won 43 games and went to the playoffs. The Bobcats lost to the Heat. The Heat had the better team and were aided by an injury to Al Jefferson. Jefferson was, at best 60%, and the Bobcats didn’t have another scorer to help Jefferson out.
But for once, a loss wasn’t a Michael Jordan devastation. Jordan was on the right track, understanding his team was young. He had so many recent draft picks. What he needed now was a veteran and in the offseason he signed Lance Stephenson, overpaying him $9 million dollars because Stephenson had a great season in 2013-14. It was a disaster from day one with Stephenson’s salary choking away oxygen. He couldn’t shoot, he was frustrated, he’s a tough teammate at best, and he broods. Jordan had to fix things and traded Stephenson to the Clippers which released an enormous weight particularly since Jordan acquired Spencer Hawes who was supposed to space the floor for Walker.
Jordan wasn’t done. He traded for Nic Batum, a long and athletic small forward defender who made threes. He got rid of Gerald Henderson who had been an underachiever and brought in Jeremy Lamb, another underachiever but one who had length, could make three-point shots but was allergic to defense. He signed Jeremy Lin who was on his third resurrection. Same for Tyler Hansborough.
How did it work out? Jordan gave Batum a contract he could never live up to and it made him impossible to trade. Jeremy Lamb lasted four seasons. He played 23 minutes and produced 12 ppg. Jeremy Lin had a one year Charlotte resurrection before he ended up in Brooklyn. Tyler Hansborough played one year with the Hornets and then was out the league.
Michael Jordan drafted Frank Kaminsky from Wisconsin, a perimeter scorer who could rebound and add punch coming off the bench. He’s gone.
A few years back, Jordan beat Jimmy Butler at his camp in a game of one-on-one. His stroke, his confidence, his swag was on display just like in The Last Dance. M.J. the competitor, and M.J. the scorer, and the M.J. the greatest of all time is thick in his bones.
But M.J. the front office wizard is a long way off.
Charlotte doesn’t need average in the front office. They need Michael Jordan the black Jesus superstar, someone who can build from scratch, nurture and develop playoff basketball in Charlotte, North Carolina.