Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley joke about Boris Diaw's weight, 20 years in advance (Getty Images)
The Charlotte Bobcats are 4-29 with half of the NBA's lockout-shortened 66-game season to go. The team is last in offensive efficiency and 29th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency, which is quite the accomplishment. Former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy pointed out on Friday that Paul Silas "should be Coach of the Year" for pulling out those four wins in 33 tries. Earlier on Friday, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver was moved to try to explain away Bobcats owner/GM Michael Jordan's executive acumen, and on Thursday Jordan friend and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley essentially blamed Jordan's miserable record as Bobcat boss on being surrounded by a series of yes-men.
In an interview with ESPN Chicago's "Waddle and Silvy Show," Barkley blamed the Bobcats' miserable record on Jordan's inability to surround himself with basketball minds that would stand up to the person routinely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. Here's Chuck's take:
"I think the biggest problem has been I don't know if he has hired enough people around him who he will listen to. One thing about being famous is the people around you, you pay all their bills so they very rarely disagree with you because they want you to pick up the check. They want to fly around on your private jet so they never disagree with you. I don't think Michael has hired enough people around him who will disagree."
Jordan's ostensible Bobcats president Rod Higgins has held several executive roles in the personnel departments of Golden State and Washington, but his last two jobs were under Jordan's stewardship, and the results speak for themselves. Higgins, it should be noted, is also a former teammate of Michael's, as well as a close friend. You can sort of see where Charles is going here.
We've covered this before. When Jordan took over the team two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote this:
From there, you're going to have to act like a proper owner or a GM. You can't be both. You're either going to have to cede control with some input to Rod Higgins, or you're going to have to take over fully and deal with the idea of someone else acting as principal owner. The job is too complicated, and no person could pull it off in 2010. No man, not even you. Once you've grown up, then I'll believe you can understand that. I'm not holding my breath.
Good thing we exhaled back in 2010, because Jordan's personnel moves have been almost universally disastrous in his time in Charlotte. There hasn't been a plan that would strike any NBA expert -- least of all Chuck -- as coherent. Middling vets come and go as the Bobcats strike the lower reaches of the lottery, all while Jordan struggles to keep one of the NBA's least-watchable teams relevant in a community that decided long ago that it's only interested in smart basketball. The Bobcats are an expansion team, created in 2004, but Charlotte is not an expansion city. They've seen winners in both the Charlotte Hornets and the Carolina Cougars. They know better.
This is why nobody is showing up, even during the rare stretches where the team plays well (like their 2010 playoff appearance). Charlotte fans saw through Jordan's "win-41-games-now" philosophy back then, and NBA scribes were right in assuming what was to follow (a payroll dump and a trip back to the bottom of the division). As a result, Jordan has to play cheap with his toy, because after assuming all the debt left behind from the team's previous owner, Robert Johnson, there isn't a lot of cash to go around.
And what you get is a team on pace to win eight games in a 66-game season. If the Bobcats continue at this rate, the team's .120 winning percentage would barely eke out the .110 winning percentage of the 1972 Philadelphia 76ers (the squad with the fewest wins in NBA history), but this is clearly nothing to be giddy over. Nor is pointing to the 19 missed games of scorer Corey Maggette, whom Jordan and Silas attempted to build the offense around, as an excuse. Not when Maggette is only shooting 35 percent.
And not when the team owes Chicago a lottery pick which will have less and less restrictions until its complete and total unprotection in 2016. Considering Jordan's history as an executive and Charlotte's financial situation, who wouldn't expect the Bobcats to be amongst the league's worst four years from now?
There is some hope. Newish GM Rich Cho is highly regarded amongst NBA circles as a mindful sort, someone who appreciates advanced analysis, and he was only let go as Portland Trail Blazers GM last year because he didn't get on well with team owner Paul Allen. This bodes well for a man whose main job will be attempting to stand up to Jordan's whims as a team owner and know-all. That said, Paul Allen doesn't have a silhouette of him dunking stitched onto his own line of shoes. Paul Allen never dunked on Patrick Ewing, and Paul Allen can't draw a crowd in every gym he walks into.
Barkley is right. Jordan has done a miserable job running this team so far. But faced with reality -- those four wins in 33 tries -- and a worrying economic landscape, perhaps this is M.J.'s low point. It's possible he turns it around from here, especially if Cho is given the green light to run things as he sees fit. That's why Jordan hired him, after all.
It would take a major step back for Jordan, though. He's not accustomed to being along for the ride, especially when it's his money the GM is spending. As an owner and personnel chief, though, it might be his best shot at success. And Charles Barkley is spot on when he tells us that Jordan badly needs someone to say "no" to him.
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- Charles Barkley