Michael Jordan hires Sam Vincent, in 2007 (Getty Images)
It was more than a little startling to hear Sam Vincent go so explicitly on record about the work habits of Charlotte Bobcat owner Michael Jordan. Sure, we've mined this territory since the outset of Jordan's tenure as an owner; he surrounds himself with yes men, and he tends to give short shrift to the work behind his personnel choices. But not only was Vincent Jordan's former teammate on the Chicago Bulls, he was one of MJ's biggest hires (and, eventually, fires) as Bobcat boss. And it's rare to hear an ex-employee, still probably trying to acquire the same job with a different team, speak so candidly.
Vincent didn't hold back, though, in his appraisal of Jordan. From the Washington Post:
"The work he put in to be a great player and the work you put in to be a great executive, those are different things," said Sam Vincent, whom Jordan hired as his head coach in 2007 less than a year after he became minority owner. "That additional time you spend on jump shots, running, dunking, I don't know if he puts in that same amount of time as an executive or if he even cares to."
Vincent, who now works with the NBA's retired player association, went on to point out that willing Bobcat fans were more than dubious about Jordan even back in 2007, when Sam was hired. The Bobcats were created a few years earlier as a franchise gift, of sorts, following a move that sent the Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans. Former Hornets owner George Shinn, once beloved in the community, poisoned the well after a series of sex scandals and demands for public funding for a Hornets arena. Vincent claims that fans wanted to know, before they re-committed to a pro basketball team, if Jordan was really in it for the long haul. If he was going to be a member of the community.
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Charlotte eventually built that arena, for the Bobcats, but the new digs aren't helping payroll or attendance concerns. The Bobcats are 26th in the league in attendance, and they field a lineup that falls below the NBA's salary cap. And because Jordan retains a home in suburban Chicago, while still flying all over the country for various marketing and shoe company-inspired functions, it never appears as if Jordan is fully invested in the floundering Bobcats. No amount of courtside appearances (something Jordan would have abhorred, during his time with the Chicago Bulls, if their owner and/or GM took a seat next to the bench) can change that.
The timing is unfortunate for MJ. Rick Maese's interview with Vincent came out the same weekend Jordan was in Las Vegas at a charity golf event. We're also a month removed from Basketball Hall of Famer and Jordan buddy Charles Barkley pointing out that, "Michael has hired enough people around him who will disagree," which would seem to be a condemnation of former Bobcats GM Rod Higgins, a Jordan friend and longtime associate.
The Bobcats are stuck at 7-48 this season, on pace for what would be an 11-71 season, in a typical year. This also doesn't take into account the fact that the Bobcats are going to be fielding weaker lineups as the year moves along, in hopes of gaining the league's worst record (they have it, don't worry) and the best chance at drafting standout big man Anthony Davis this June. But as the tank job rolls on, as Dan Devine pointed out on Tuesday, the fans are going to continue to show up less and less. And for an owner in Jordan that basically picked up the team by assuming its debts, and throwing a ton of cash at win-now players and coaches for years in order to achieve the team's lone playoff showing in 2010, this is bad, bad timing.
Of course, this could be the low point. A good point.
It barely made a ripple last year, as he is one of the NBA's least assuming personnel chiefs, but Jordan hired former Portland Trail Blazer GM Rich Cho following last season's playoff miss. Maese points out in his column surrounding Sam Vincent's quotes that this is the first hire of Jordan's career that didn't have a previous relationship with MJ. That, in and of itself, is a step forward.
Cho followed up his hiring by trading locker room malcontent Stephen Jackson for a chance to move up in last year's draft and swingman Corey Maggette. The move was a clear win on paper, though nobody could have predicted Maggette's surprising falloff in his injury-plagued 2011-12 season. Cho, be it by design or because of handcuffs as the team struggles with its finances, hasn't made any other significant moves in the months since the NBA's lockout lifted. Sometimes, inaction is promising.
It could stand as evidence that Jordan is finally backing off. Acting as an owner, only, and letting other basketball brains work on Basketball Things. Though Jordan is no typical owner, we usually don't have any clue as to what casino 28 other NBA team owners (Shinn was forced to sell the Hornets to the NBA last year) may have been at over the weekend, or what charity event they shot an 82 at. Jordan clearly couldn't be an owner/general manager with the hours that he was putting in before, but he's certainly well suited to be a pure owner if Cho (who is exacting and full of potential) is putting in the GM work for the Bobcats.
We don't know, yet. When it comes time to make decisions, like with this June's draft and the team's upcoming batch of cap space, Jordan could waltz in and overrule Cho just as he may have done with Higgins. In just the span of a few weeks, and a couple of meetings, Jordan could render Cho's work pointless, just by doing what he's allowed to do as an owner -- have the final say.
Trust is a funny thing, and it's hard to back off and trust those that you've hired to do the right thing, especially when you not only have a stake in this fire, but also six NBA championship rings to show off. Hopefully Jordan trusts his own basketball smarts, the ones that told him that there were clear lines of demarcation between owner, general manager, coach and player in Chicago, as the Bobcats attempt to rebuild this mess.
If he doesn't, Sam Vincent's words will act as the perfect summation.
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- Sam Vincent