When the team owner is also a basketball icon, things can be a bit more hands-on for the Charlotte Hornets.
Owner Michael Jordan met with the players before Saturday’s game with the Los Angeles Lakers, looking for answers to what’s ailing this roster. The Hornets lost six of seven heading into this game, and they looked dreadful in the second of two losses this season to the 4-20 Chicago Bulls.
By the description of veteran forward Marvin Williams, Jordan didn’t berate. It was more a fact-finding mission: With the coaches out of the room, he asked for concerns. It sounds like he was doing the same as he might have as a player; getting others to open up, to both clear the air and clear their heads.
In the short run, Jordan’s intervention didn’t change the result. The Hornets fell to the 10-15 Los Angeles Lakers 110-99. For the second time in as many nights, the Hornets gave up 56 points in the lane. They also allowed 28 fast-break points.
No team can win on a regular basis allowing that many transition baskets. Particularly not a team as limited as the 9-16 Hornets are right now.
Jordan left Spectrum Center with a large group of friends right after Saturday’s game, looking understandably glum. It’s been a rough first quarter of the season: Plenty of injuries to rotation players and coach Steve Clifford missed his third consecutive game with a yet-undisclosed health issue.
What was Jordan’s approach in reaching out to the players?
“It wasn’t a talking-to,” Williams told the Observer. “He wanted to hear what our thoughts were, where we wanted to be. He gave his input on what he’s seen, what he would like to see going forward.
“It was very constructive, very appreciative and very much needed.”
Something sure must change, and fast. The Hornets now go on a two-game road trip to Oklahoma City (Monday) and Houston (Wednesday). They are 1-10 on the road and that single victory away from Spectrum Center – at Memphis – was all the way back in October.
This is a team that isn’t reliable in close games. More recently, the Hornets are a team giving up an alarming number of points off dribble-penetration.
Associate head coach Stephen Silas, filling in for Clifford, said he reminded the players during every timeout to get back in transition defense, to little avail. That has been Clifford’s non-negotiable; he doesn’t mind if the Hornets don’t amass many offensive rebounds, but they must recover to the defensive end to guard 5-on-5.
“The one thing Coach Cliff always says is running back doesn’t take any talent; it’s a will to want to run back,” Silas said. “When we were finally able to do it, and make them take jumpers, we were good. But when we didn’t, it really hurt us.”
No doubt giving up all those points in the paint would have been on Jordan’s mind as he interacted with his team.
“He just gave us his thoughts. He said, ‘You guys are the players, and this is what I hope to see from you guys,’” Williams said.
“People ask me the question all the time, ‘What’s it like to play for MJ?’ They think it would be so tough, because of how great he was. But for us, it’s so beneficial. He understands the grind of an NBA season, he understands the stretches when you’re losing and when you win.
“He very much lets coach be coach and the players be players. Today he just came in and told us what he’s been seeing.”
What he’s seeing requires correction. And soon.