CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan could no longer hide his frustration midway through the Bobcats’ dismal season last year. Not wanting anyone to see how angry he was, Charlotte’s owner moved from his seat at the end of the team’s bench to his more secluded luxury suite high above the court.
Still, he didn’t give up on his club then and he isn’t now.
The ultra-competitive Jordan said despite watching his club “hit rock bottom” during the most miserable season in NBA history that he’s “in it for the long haul” when it comes to seeing his struggling franchise transformed into a consistent winner.
He knows it won’t be a quick, easy process.
“Are we a playoff team? C’mon, we can’t expect that,” Jordan said Thursday. “But we need to get the ball rolling in the right direction. I’m not real happy about the record book scenario last year. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Charlotte finished 7-59 and with the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history,
Jordan, who won six NBA titles with the Chiciago Bulls, believes he has the right man to turn things around in new coach Mike Dunlap.
Dunlap has taken a no-nonsense, back-to-basics approach to coaching basketball — something Jordan said has been missing in Charlotte.
“For years those steps have been skipped,” Jordan said. “… We don’t have a star that can carry the team, so you’ve got to learn to play together. That is what I love about (Dunlap). He’s going to get back to the basics with good passes, pivots, boxing out, running, taking care of the ball and taking good shots. All of the things that were lost.”
Jordan said the challenge has been getting players to buy in, particularly when it comes to Dunlap’s grueling three- to four-hour marathon practices.
But he’s there to make sure they do.
Jordan saw what he perceived as “resistance” from some players to Dunlap’s ways earlier this week, pulled them aside after practice and dressed them down. He told them that he fully supports Dunlap’s philosophies and if they don’t agree with it they won’t be around for long.
That seemed to get the players’ attention.
Jordan said the next day he saw a change in attitude.
“I want to establish a culture within in this organization so that when you plug a guy in, the culture is sitting there and no one guy is bigger than that culture,” Jordan said. “You either fit in or you don’t fit in. When you look at organizations that are established they have a winning culture.”
Jordan said once the Bobcats establish that culture more big-name free agents will want to come to Charlotte.
“Last year we went through the process of stripping down the organization and trying to build that back up,” Jordan said. “And this is another step toward that. Getting a young coach who understands our vision about what type of team we want to be and then being able to go pluck some of these (free agents) to mesh with what we have.”
The Bobcats added some veteran leadership to a young team this offseason, claiming center Brendan Haywood off waivers, trading for guard Ben Gordon and signing free agent Ramon Sessions from the Los Angeles Lakers.
While all three are proven commodities and bring various skills, none are considered franchise players — certainly not the way Jordan was with the Bulls.
Jordan would love to have a marquee player.
And if that player does comes available in free agency or via trade — and if he wants to play in Charlotte — Jordan said he’s willing to go to great lengths to get him.
“I’ll spend money, that that’s not even a question, if a person fits what we want to do and it makes sense,” Jordan said. “But I don’t think it makes sense for us to be in a luxury tax situation and fighting for the eighth spot in the playoffs. That doesn’t make any sense. You have to spend money wisely.”
Jordan won’t say when he expects the Bobcats to make the playoffs or even how many wins it would take for him to consider this a successful season.
He only told Dunlap he expects the team should be much better on Feb. 1 than they are Friday night when they open the season against the Indiana Pacers.
“Our (long-term) success is predicated on a lot of things, especially this year,” Jordan said. “First, how will the (young players) adapt to the process we’re going through. We’ll know what holes we have to plug at the end of the year because we have some key contracts coming up” with Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens becoming free agents.
“We will start to plug some of that,” Jordan said. “But it’s hard for me to make that suggestion of two or three years we’re going to be in the playoffs. I hope we are.”
The Bobcats should have significant salary cap space next year, and Jordan hopes the new CBA will prevent players to jumping to what he calls “mega-teams” and create more parity throughout the league.
Any way you look at it, Jordan and the Bobcats have a long road to hoe.
But Jordan wants to see it through.
“I don’t anticipate getting out of this business,” Jordan said. “My competitive nature is I want to succeed. It’s always been said that when I can’t find a way to do anything, I will find a way to do it.
“I didn’t get in the business to try to get out. Granted I want to turn this thing around as fast as possible but this is obviously a process. I’m committed to it and I want to pass it down to my family members or my kids. I want this to always be in Charlotte.”
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