Jordan's new challenge: Building a contender

Marc J. Spears
Michael Jordan has vowed to spend more time with the Bobcats and has watched both playoff losses in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Michael Jordan can no longer let his game speak for him – or help his Charlotte Bobcats – so as he sat and watched his team lose another game to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, he found a familiar outlet for his frustration: the referees. Jordan's competitive fire showed itself as he chirped at the officials, but it was also gone as soon as the final buzzer sounded.

Jordan walked through the locker room door late Wednesday, not as a player, but the Bobcats' new owner. He didn't chew out his team for falling into a 0-2 hole against the Magic. The only words he dispensed to the players were encouraging.

During his two months as owner, Jordan has spent most of his time observing, taking mental notes and trying to figure out just what needs to be fixed. The question on everyone's minds: How long can the game's greatest competitor remain patient? Even if the Bobcats are swept out of the first round, they made progress this season. But what will the expectations be a year from now?

For now, the Bobcats see Jordan for what he is: their boss.

''There is no aura and awe when you see him every day,'' Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace(notes) said. ''We treat him just like a teammate or an owner, a general manager, whatever title he has. That's the type of respect we have. There is no awe about him.''

Jordan had been a partial owner of the franchise since 2006 while running the team's basketball operations. He took over majority ownership of the franchise after previous owner Bob Johnson agreed to sell to him.

Jordan didn't turn the Washington Wizards into a contender during his tenure running them, so there is still pressure on him to succeed as an executive. Prior to buying the Bobcats, he was frequently criticized for not spending much time around the team. Jordan vowed that would change, and, so far, it has. He's been a regular sitting at the end of the team's bench at home games. He also had a baseline seat by the Bobcats' bench during their first two playoff games.

Being visible ''was something he wasn't asked to do in the past,'' Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins said. ''It's his team. Of course he's going to be upfront.''

Said Magic center Dwight Howard(notes): ''He's there for a reason: to motivate the team.''

The ''wow'' factor of being around Jordan has disappeared for most of the Bobcats. Center Tyson Chandler(notes) said playing in front of Jordan is like ''a boost of energy,'' but of most of his longer-tenured teammates treat him like one of the guys.

''I don't understand why everyone keeps asking what changed when Michael bought the team,'' Wallace said. ''You got to realize, Michael had been here three or four years until he actually bought the team. He's still in the same position he was in. He just moved up to majority owner, which means he owns more than he did before. But nothing has changed.

''Everything still goes through him. It's basically the same as it was when he first came here.''

While Jordan is proud to have the Bobcats in the playoffs, the question is whether they can build on their success. After enjoying a 31-10 home record this season, the Bobcats hope to turn their fortunes around during the next two games in Charlotte. Jordan, however, shouldn't be expecting any miracles.

''It's an experienced team against an inexperienced team,'' Wallace said. ''That's all I can say about it.''

The Bobcats have some talented players in Wallace, Stephen Jackson(notes), Boris Diaw(notes), Tyrus Thomas(notes), Raymond Felton(notes) and Tyson Chandler. But they lack a franchise-lifting superstar.

''For the organization to succeed, you have to be able to have that LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes), Chris Paul(notes), Dwight Howard,'' Chandler said. ''Every franchise wants a Dirk Nowitzki(notes) to put butts in the seats. After that, it's about putting the right guys around him.''

The Bobcats also have several other off-season challenges to overcome. Namely, they don't have the means to be a major player in the free-agent market, which also will include Felton. If coach Larry Brown wants to leave for another job elsewhere, Jordan isn't expected to stop him. Charlotte also doesn't have a first round pick this year.

Considering all the challenges, it's hard to envision the Bobcats taking a major step forward next season.

''It's going to take awhile,'' Higgins said. ''A lot of people don't understand that we've made a lot of moves. We've made some changes. Sometimes change isn't always a recipe for success. But with that being said, I'm sure we are going to get together what's best for our organization. There are tough decisions to be made.''

It will be interesting to see how long Jordan can endure mediocrity. For all of his legendary accomplishments, turning the Bobcats into a contender would rank high on the list.

''It's his baby,'' Chandler said. ''Now I'm sure he's watching, really watching, to see what he wants to do with the franchise.''