Michael Jordan defends Cats decisions
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Jordan has found that while his 13 months as an NBA owner have been "fun," running the Charlotte Bobcats is more difficult and frustrating than his high-flying playing career.
"I'm not saying I don't sit in a very tough seat, because I do," Jordan said Wednesday. "I come from a whole different perspective as far as impact when I was in shorts. Now I've got to live vicariously through the people that I'm paying to be in shorts.
"That doesn't change my desire to move this into an elite program. In fact, it makes me more competitive."
And at the end of an eventful, yet playoff-less season that saw him fire coach Larry Brown, trade former All-Star Gerald Wallace and shed payroll, the six-time NBA champion has found a team to pattern his young franchise after: his old Chicago Bulls.
"I'm pretty sure when they were in the eighth spot they would have never guessed in a year or two they'd be the best record in the East," Jordan said.
Despite being without Bulls superstar Derrick Rose, Jordan believes his Bobcats can duplicate the "Chicago scenario" through increased financial flexibility, two extra first-round draft picks and what he hopes is a friendly new labor deal.
"Last year we were sitting on our hands with no flexibility and no conversations," Jordan said. "I vowed to not be in that position again. To be at least when free agents come about, we can talk about it and least try to get them to come to Charlotte."
Handcuffed by salary-cap woes -- much of his creation by deals made since he took over the basketball operations in 2006 -- Jordan allowed point guard Raymond Felton to leave in free agency, traded center Tyson Chandler to Dallas to clear payroll and sent Wallace, the team's most popular and effective player, to Portland in a deal that yielded two first-round picks.
It's created whispers that with the Bobcats losing money, Jordan is doing things on the cheap.
"That's not true. Shoot, we're spending $65 million this year," said Jordan, whose payroll commitment drops to about $50 million for next season and about $40 million a year later. "I want to move from the eighth spot to a top-three spot. And we'll spend money to get us to that point."
But that's far away based on this season's offensively challenged team that Jordan proclaimed should make the playoffs before the season. Charlotte was 8-16 since the Wallace trade before Wednesday's season finale against Atlanta.
"When we traded Gerald Wallace we were in the ninth position. We're finishing the season in the ninth position," Jordan said in defending the deal. "We got two first-round draft picks. I think we've enhanced our position to move ourselves up that ladder."
It will be without Brown. The Hall of Famer helped guide the 7-year-old franchise to its only playoff appearance last season. But Brown wavered on returning this season, then openly criticized his roster and his players' efforts before being fired after a 9-19 start.
"I never felt Larry quit on the team," Jordan insisted. "I felt like the response coming from the players as well as from the coaching staff was way off."
Paul Silas brought a calming influence and moderate success until a rash of late-season injuries dropped Charlotte out of playoff contention. Jordan extended Silas' contract through the end of next season and praised him for the development of point guard D.J. Augustin, shooting guard Gerald Henderson and even center Kwame Brown, often the punchline in Jordan's managerial career.
Now after Jordan was panned for taking Brown No. 1 overall while running the Washington Wizards in 2001, he's now hoping to re-sign the impending free agent.
"I told him it took 10 years to justify drafting you," Jordan joked.
Jordan had some jabs, specifically saying power forward Boris Diaw "didn't have a great year" and acknowledged the lack of depth on the roster. He's hoping those holes can be filled through free agency.
"Is Charlotte a bad place? ... Why wouldn't this be a destination for free agents?" Jordan said. "It has been in the past. I think the ownership has changed and changed for the positive."
Yet Jordan would be one of the owners helped the most by a new collective bargaining agreement that yields a lower salary cap. Jordan plans to be active when negotiations heat up this summer, when a lockout is possible.
"Something has to be done where the business aspect works not just for the larger markets but for the small markets as well," Jordan said.
The Hall of Fame player has moved from highly paid player to trying to keep costs down as an owner. But the competitive fire remains and Jordan insists he'll transform the Bobcats into a winner.
"It's been fun," Jordan said "I think we've done a heck of a job in 13 months."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press