The Worst Of All Time?
Taking a look at Michael Jordan, the owner.
by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
There are a handful of names in the discussion for the greatest NBA player of all time. Wilt Chamberlain, with career averages of 30 and 23, always gets some love. Kobe Bryant has a supporter or two out there. Kareem and Magic get mentions as well (this isn’t an article about how great the Lakers franchise is—I’ll get to my main point in just a second). Cases can be made for Celtic greats Bird and Russell, too.
Maybe a few other guys come to mind, but ultimately most people would hand the honor of Greatest Baller of All Time to one Michael Jordan. In a career that spanned from the moment he was drafted third (THIRD!) overall in 1984 ‘til he hung up the sneakers in 2003—including a trio of retirements—Air Jordan averaged over 30 points per game, won six rings, five MVP awards, 10 scoring titles, three All-Star game MVPs and so on.
But not everything Jordan touches turns to gold. In fact, ever since retiring, it’s been the opposite. MJ has had control of the basketball side of two teams since retiring: the Wizards between 2000-2001 and the Bobcats, the team he currently runs, which he was put in charge of in 2006.
His Airness has taken a lot of heat as an NBA owner, so with much of this year’s off-season activity in the books, I think it’s time to examine exactly how bad he’s been.
MJ ran the show in Washington for about a year before lacing up the sneakers again and playing for the Wiz. In that time, he made two significant moves. First, he cleared some serious dough by trading Juwan Howard, who was playing on a seven-year, $105 million contract and getting booed consistently in Washington, to Dallas in February of 2001. The Wizards were stuck in the mud and he created very good cap flexibility with the move. Unfortunately, that’s hardly how he’s remembered in DC.
That’s because he set the franchise back years by selecting Kwame Brown with the first pick in the ’01 Draft. That Draft churned out a number of busts (Eddy Curry, Eddie Griffin, Gana Diop—more on him later—and Rodney White were all top-10 picks), but still. Kwame, man. Kwame.
He then un-retired and began complaining about the lack of talent around him, which, of course, he put in place. Upon his next retirement, the President position was no longer offered to him.
Where does one begin when recapping six years of simply painful basketball? MJ’s history with Charlotte is too big to bite off all at once, so I’ll break down the meaningful moves into topical tiers. The Good (Jordan’s hoops days) and The Bad (Jordan’s baseball days). Spoiler alert: I have a broad definition of the phrase “The Good.”
JORDAN’S BASKETBALL CAREER
The Bobcats move the rights to eighth overall pick Brandan Wright (huge bust) to Golden State for Jason Richardson. JRich averaged nearly 22 points per contest the following season. In the same ’07 Draft, the Bobcats found a good player in Jared Dudley at No. 22.
The Bobcats draft Gerald Henderson 12th overall. Hardly a great move—in fact a mediocre one—but not a bad one either. The next few guys off the board were Tyler Hansbrough, Earl Clark and Austin Daye, so Charlotte got solid value.
Charlotte trades Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler. Chandler didn’t really work out with the Bobcats, averaging only 6.5 and 6.5, but by then it was clear Charlotte needed to move on from Okafor.
Charlotte ships Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanović to the Warriors for Stephen Jackson and Acie Law. MJ tried to put some talent around Gerald Wallace, and he and Jackson formed a pretty nice duo before being shipped out of town.
The Bobcats move Wallace to the Blazers for Dante Cunningham and two first-round picks. Pretty good return on a guy who they clearly had to trade to begin a rebuilding process.
The Bobcats trade away Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and the 19th overall pick in exchange for Corey Maggette and the 7th pick. Jackson and Maggette both expire after the upcoming season, meaning they essentially moved up 12 spots for free. Very solid under-the-radar move.
The Bobcats select Kemba Walker with the ninth overall pick. It’s still way too early to tell what Walker will do in the League. Some think he’ll thrive, some think he’s not made for success in the NBA. Either way, he was the guy Charlotte needed. It seems extremely unlikely that he’ll be remembered as a bust, and they needed a new face of the franchise. The jury is still out on Bismack Biyombo, who they selected seventh overall in the same Draft.
Charlotte and Detroit swap Corey Maggette and Ben Gordon. Maggette has one year remaining on his deal, while Gordon has two. For picking up Gordon’s contract, Detroit sent along a poorly protected first-round pick. This could turn out to be a massive score for Jordan.
Charlotte selects Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick. Obviously MKG hasn’t proven anything yet, but it was a logical choice by MJ, something which can never be assumed with him at the helm. They could have traded down and grabbed Thomas Robinson a little lower in the Draft while collecting an extra pick or two, but it’s tough to argue with taking Kidd-Gilchrist, who fits on the roster nicely.
That’s it. Anything really great stand out to you? Yeah, me neither.
JORDAN’S BASEBALL CAREER
Roughly two weeks after Jordan took over basketball operations in Charlotte, they selected Adam Morrison third overall. This Draft didn’t produce as much talent as some—Aldridge, Roy and Rondo are the only All-Stars—but it has still proved to be a miserable selection. Morrison actually averaged nearly 12 points per game in his rookie season, but he never topped 4.5 again. And after watching him play for the Nets in the Orlando Summer League last week, I’d like to officially nominate him for the “Single Worst Player I’ve Seen In My Life” Lifetime Achievement Award.
MJ hands Matt Carroll a six-year, $27 million contract. Ugh.
DJ Augustin selected ninth overall. Augustin isn’t a bad player, but he’s not very good either. After four seasons in Charlotte, he has career averages of about 10.5 points and 4.5 dimes in 27 minutes per game. Factoring in that Brook Lopez was taken just one slot after him doesn’t make it look any better.
The Bobcats grab Alexis Ajinca at No. 20 overall. The center played 37 games in Charlotte over two seasons and has career averages of roughly 3 and 1.5. Before you say that guys taken outside the lottery are frequently busts, keep in mind that Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, George Hill and Darrell Arthur were all taken between picks 21-28 that year.
The Bobcats trade Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to the Suns for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. There are just so many things wrong with this trade. First, Charlotte gave up the best player in the deal (JRich) without getting anything they needed (young talent) in return. Second, Dudley was a solid young talent and they gave him up as a throw-in. Third, Diaw was playing on a five-year, $45 million contract which eventually became so untradable that they had to buy him out last season. Nothing like trading your best player for no pieces that help while limiting future cap flexibility.
Bobcats acquire Gana Diop from Dallas for Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins. Swapping one bad contract for another here, but as only Charlotte can do, they got the worse one. Diop’s contract increased every year, while Carroll’s was front loaded. Both expire after the upcoming season, but Charlotte will be paying their guy roughly $7.4 million, more than double Carroll’s salary for the season. Why, Michael? Why?
The Bobcats swap Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison for Vladimir Radmanović. Morrison was already worthless when the trade went down, but moving Brown for Radmanovic was a mistake. Brown went on to be a very productive player off the bench for the Lakers, while Vlad didn’t make much noise in Charlotte. Granted Brown was really just a reserve in Charlotte, but it’s still unclear why they wanted VR in the first place.
The Bobcats trade Flip Murray, Acie Law and a loosely protected first-round pick to the Bulls for Tyrus Thomas. A date which will live in infamy. This deal is so bad that I feel the need to delve into exactly how bad the protection on that pick is. If the Bobcats pick in the top 12 a year from now, they retain the pick. Same goes if they pick in the top 10 in 2014 or the top eight in 2015 (all highly likely). The first time their pick falls out of those protections, it goes to Chicago. But if it hasn’t yet been used by Chicago by 2016, it becomes unprotected. That means the Bulls would get Charlotte’s ’16 pick no matter how high up in the Draft it is. Maybe by then the Bobcats will have an OKC-esque turnaround and the pick won’t be so valuable. But what if they win the lottery in 2016?
The Bobcats trade Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca for Eric Dampier, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. This was a salary dump for Charlotte, as they immediately waived Dampier’s unguaranteed contract, but it wasn’t worth it. Charlotte didn’t replace Chandler with the freed up cap space, and he went on to lead the Dallas defense to a Championship.
The Bobcats re-sign Tyrus Thomas to a five-year, $40 million contract. As if giving up that pick wasn’t bad enough, Jordan goes out and hands Thomas a way-too-pricey extension. It’s grown to be such a bad contract that there were talks of packaging the second overall pick in this year’s Draft with Thomas just to get him out of town.
The Bobcats withdraw DJ Augustin’s qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent—free to walk to Indiana. Meanwhile, they bring in Ramon Sessions. I’m not sure that anybody else was really bothered by this, but it made very little sense to me for two reasons. First, by withdrawing the qualifying offer they took away a chance to sign-and-trade Augustin, instead losing him for nothing. Then they brought in Sessions, a solid point guard, but not who they need. Charlotte is hardly a Sessions away from being a Playoff contender, so why take away minutes from Kemba, one of the team’s only bright spots? Minor moves, but head-scratchers nonetheless.
I’ll leave you with complete nightmare hypothetical situation for Jordan: the Bulls use that Bobcats pick to lead the way in an offer to Orlando for Dwight Howard. DH comes in and wins a few rings alongside Derrick Rose. Suddenly Jordan—of course never to be forgotten—becomes a little less of a god in Chicago. Kids walking around in Howard No. 12 jerseys rather than MJ’s 23. All because he felt the need to scoop up Tyrus Freakin’ Thomas.