by David Steele AOL FanHouse Columnist
Ever since Michael Jordan first bought into the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006, and especially since he took full control in 2010, it’s been assumed by most that winning would just be a matter of time.
Never mind his previous face-plant as a front-office executive with the Washington Wizards.
Of all the qualities for which Jordan is known, winning is at the top, so what’s to stop him now that he was in a suit instead of a uniform?
What stopped him, it’s become obvious, was himself.
Here’s what also seems obvious: Jordan has finally recognized that fact. If the report in the newest edition of ESPN The Magazine is correct, he is also about to fix that.
Jordan is reportedly passing off responsibility for basketball decisions to the executives and staff he hired, primarily general manager Rich Cho. That move can’t too come soon or be welcomed too heartily by what’s left of what was once a rabid NBA fan base in Charlotte.
It’s hard to have three owners of two franchises in one market in such a short time period who have been as destructive as former Hornets owner George Shinn, original Bobcats owner Robert Johnson and now Jordan. They each caused pain in their own unique ways. To Jordan’s credit, he’s not the worst of the bunch; topping Shinn’s act would not only be challenging, but possibly felonious.
Still for MJ, cleaning up Johnson’s mess, then creating a brand-new mess of his own has been an impressive feat.
Jordan’s mistakes as owner come from the hazy, undefined region between wanting to be Jerry West and thinking he already was Jerry West. That would be unacceptable if applied to a player’s approach to the job, and it’s been just as disastrous in the context of West’s team-building genius.
The wise move is to let someone else do that job. The wise move may be at hand. It just took the worst single season by a team in league history to make it happen. Whatever Jordan’s image of himself as an architect in whatever position he envisioned himself, a 7-59 record told the world that it was a lie.
It’s hard to say if it’s an honest mistake, or a common one. Who has ever been in Jordan’s position in Charlotte to compare him to? Magic Johnson with the Dodgers right now might be a portion of a comparison, but so far, in his very brief time as head of the group that bought a team in a different sport than the one he dominated, Magic has confined his duties to being the public face and voice, and to letting management do its job.
In other words, he wasn’t out there working the phones to put together the Josh Beckett-Adrian Gonzalez deal last month. There isn’t a No. 1 pick spent on Kwame Brown on his resume yet, nor a No. 3 pick on Adam Morrison.
Cho arrives in Charlotte with the DNA of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. The Oklahoma City part is what will catch most people’s eye, for obvious reasons; the Portland part should, too, because he did his work there amidst organizational dysfunction created largely by the owner, Paul Allen; that also claimed his predecessor, the similarly-brainy Kevin Pritchard.
Organizational dysfunction emanating from the owner? Rich, pal, jump right in, you must know your way around already.
It may be time to stop punching Jordan and his front-office reputation in the face, though. As it’s been pointed out here, hiring Mike Dunlap from St. John’s as head coach in June was a smarter move than he got credit for. Cho has been in place since last summer; the lines of responsibility seem to be drawn more clearly now, though.
Cho had the unenviable task of making the second overall choice in this year’s draft – after no-brainer Anthony Davis – and taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was gutsy, mainly because he’s the kind of less-spectacular talent Jordan kept missing on. In fact, the ESPN The Magazine story reports, by being fired in Portland and hired in Charlotte when he was in the run-up to the 2011 draft, Cho was in no position to talk the owner out of his pet pick, Connecticut’s Kemba Walker.
It wasn’t so much that picking Walker was wrong; it’s that it was a quintessential Jordan pick, and Cho was about to get clearance to throw that sort of decision-making away. The Bobcats might have lost 59 times no matter who they’d drafted that year, but from then on, they’d have to do it under Cho’s watch, not Jordan’s.
Good. There’s still a chance he could be an owner that can live up to what he was as a player. The way to do it, he may finally realize, is to get out of his own way.