As the Charlotte Bobcats’ home opener approaches, several things happen: The weather turns colder, the light rail becomes fuller and Michael Jordan talks to the media.
Jordan was different this November, however, and not just because he wore a checked jacket that probably came with a Sherlock Holmes pipe.
In previous years, Jordan struck me as a former player who was trying to be an NBA owner. He was still the great Michael Jordan, conqueror of Pistons and Cavaliers, Suns and Lakers. He had yet to conquer anybody as an owner. He was in transition. He hadn’t arrived.
Jordan has arrived. He’s an owner who once played ball. He’s 50 now, 10 seasons removed from the court.
Another difference: Most seasons Jordan talks about his plan to turn the Bobcats into a contender.
On Friday, finally, he didn’t have to tell. He could show.
Although young, the Bobcats are deeper than they’ve ever been. The elusive and perhaps mythical big-time free agent Jordan used to talk about pursuing wears a Charlotte uniform, No. 25. He’s Al Jefferson, a 6-foot-10, 289-pound center who offers an inside scoring presence – the first the Bobcats have had.
The Bobcats also retained guard Gerald Henderson, a restricted free agent. Jordan needed to prove that his team wouldn’t nurture another first-round draft pick, watch him develop and then, when the draft pick established that he could play, let him go.
Next season’s draft will be rich. I asked Jordan why he chose to pursue Jefferson now. When healthy (Jefferson missed Friday’s game with an ankle injury), he will enable the Bobcats to win more games. The more they win, the lower they’ll pick in the lucrative 2014 draft. They potentially have two other first-round picks, Portland’s and Detroit’s.
They also are due lottery karma, which appears to own a place in Cleveland.
“We needed to start making that move with more established players,” said Jordan. “You can’t just go ‘Young, young, young’ and hope that everybody gets it. We have our fingers crossed that our young players grow. Then you have other avenues with your draft picks and flexible (cap space). We just invested in a post threat that is 29 or 30 years old.”
Jefferson is 28 but his game comes from a long-ago time when big men ruled the lane, if not the earth. Jefferson will be 31 when his $41-million contract expires.
Jordan praised Josh McRoberts, a journeyman until he beached up in Charlotte last season.
As a player Jordan was a scorer, a defender, a winner, a leader. He wasn’t necessarily a passer.
As an owner, he appreciates the art of the pass. McRoberts does many things, foremost among them function as a 6-foot-10 quarterback. Get open and he’ll find you.
Jefferson has collected most of the preseason accolades from the media and fans. But the player I look most forward to watching is point guard Kemba Walker. Despite Jefferson, the Bobcats will go as Walker goes.
“The kid is showing all the right signs,” Jordan said of Walker. “He’s got leadership and energy and he’s not afraid to take the big shot. He’s good with steals and with the ball in his hands when there’s no time on the clock.
“He’ll get better at running a team, to identify situations where he can get guys certain shots – all the things (former NBA star and Charlotte assistant coach) Mark Price was good at. I would love for that relationship to be an unbelievable bond because (Walker) can learn from that.”
Jordan has made well-publicized mistakes that have set the franchise back – the one-and-done coaches he’s hired, investing a great draft pick in Adam Morrison.
But he has a plan. Based on the talent he’s aquired and the coaches he’s hired, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t work.