Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan says it’s his desire and intent to sign point guard Kemba Walker to a contract extension by the NBA’s Friday deadline.
“I’d much rather get Kemba done before the season starts,” Jordan told the Observer Tuesday. “Ultimately that’s what I intend to accomplish. We’re in real conversations. I’m hopeful. Really hopeful.”
Under terms of the NBA’s rookie pay scale, the Hornets can sign Walker to an extension by Oct. 31, thus avoiding him becoming a restricted free agent in July. Walker has said his preference is to remain a Hornet under a long-term deal.
If Walker and the Hornets don’t come to an agreement, the team could be facing free-agency for two of its core players next summer. Al Jefferson, an All-NBA center, can opt out of the final season on his deal next summer and become an unrestricted free agent.
“You are always concerned – more so with Al because he’s totally unrestricted,” Jordan said.
“They are core pieces of what we’re trying to do… I’d like to keep both of those guys. I say I’d like to and I’d spend the money that’s appropriate. I’ll make every attempt to keep them.”
Jefferson was a breakthrough free-agent signing for this franchise in the summer of 2012.
“Al is a straight shooter. We love him,” Jordan said. “He took a gamble on us. That obviously plays into our thinking.”
This past offseason, the Hornets were able to sign shooting guard Lance Stephenson away from the Indiana Pacers.
Jordan had a direct role in the process that brought Stephenson to Charlotte, flying to Las Vegas in July to meet with Stephenson and his agent. Jordan said he was candid with Stephenson about his strengths and weakness and pressed the point he wasn’t going to be manipulated. Stephenson had to decide that night whether he’d be a Hornet.
Jordan told Stephenson he could do without the antics, like blowing in LeBron James ear, but there was plenty else he found appealing.
“I like his competitive drive and the way he challenged LeBron. Because if we’re ever going to get out of the East, you have to get past LeBron,” Jordan said. “(He’s) not afraid of anybody.”
Jordan on other topics covered in an interview with the Observer:
On Jeff Taylor’s arrest on a domestic violence charge: “I would never want to harm a woman at any time no matter how angry I am. As it pertains to the Taylor situation, there is a legal case going on, and we have to let that take its course.”
On whether the Hornets can now be profitable after years of financial losses: “Are we making a substantial amount of money? No. Are we getting closer to breaking even? Yes.”
On the public-private partnership with the city regarding the arena and the prospect of the All-Star Game returning to Charlotte: “Great relationship with the city… (To pursue an All-Star Game) it was deemed we needed to do some things with the arena. We collaborated all summer – six to seven months until we came to an agreement where we made a contribution and the city made a contribution.”
On losing Josh McRoberts (who Jordan had called this team’s “connector”) to the Miami Heat in free-agency: “I was a little disappointed in how that happened. I talked to Josh myself about how much he meant to the team and how we wanted him back.
“It wasn’t a financial scenario, it wasn’t that we didn’t want him. At the end of the day he wanted to do something else, go to a team where he might win a championship a lot faster.”
On coach Steve Clifford: “I like the way he pays attention to detail. … He’s an open and honest guy. He yelled at Lance today and Lance responded. That’s what great coaches do: They yell at their best players just like they yell at the 13th man. At the end of the day, that’s great coaching.”
On the risk/reward in drafting P.J. Hairston in June: “We did our due diligence on him ... And when things happened during the summer (the fight with a teenager at a Durham YMCA), we dove in even deeper.
“Everybody has to step forward and take responsibility for him doing the right thing. ... If it fails, it’s not because we didn’t try. Then it’s up to that kid that he didn’t take responsibility.”