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The Daily Tar Heel

COLUMN: Michael Jordan is one of the worst owners in the NBA, and now it's obvious

Ryan Wilcox

Assistant Sports Editor Ryan Wilcox

The Charlotte Hornets have not eclipsed 50 wins in a season since 1998.

This century, they have registered exactly two second round appearances, none since the franchise’s return to Charlotte as the Bobcats in 2004.

They have burned through seven coaches in the last 15 years, reaching the playoffs just three times in that stretch. Two of those were courtesy of Steve Clifford, who was fired in 2018 after back-to-back 36-win seasons.

And the Hornets just lost Kemba Walker, perhaps the best player in franchise history – certainly the most exciting in a generation – to a conference rival (as much as you can have a rival when you’ve virtually gone decades without substantial playoff success).

I’m really sorry to do this, but it’s time to ask that most unholy of questions. Are the Hornets just the Knicks with better PR?

Since the turn of the millennium, the New York Knicks, that laughingstock of the modern NBA, have won two playoff series to the Hornets’ zero, won 50 games twice, and have been infinitely more relevant than Charlotte, if only mostly because they reside in the holy mecca of basketball. Still, the Knicks have posted three winning seasons this decade to the Hornets’ two; remind me again why they’re the worst run franchise in sports?

Granted, it might be because when it comes to free agency, the Knicks have managed to strike out more than a blindfolded Bryce Harper. 

They could’ve landed Warriors star Kevin Durant this summer were it not for their bumbling owner, James Dolan – a trust-fund baby more concerned with his band JD and the Straight Shot (seriously) than with a Knicks return to glory. After it was announced that Durant was signing with the Brooklyn Nets, news broke that Dolan balked on offering Durant a max contract for fear of the Achilles injury Durant suffered in May.

Few in the NBA can even light a candle to Dolan when it comes to mismanagement of personnel and general incompetence. Michael Jordan is one such person.

Jordan took majority ownership of the Hornets in 2010, and has sneakily rattled off one of the worst stretches of team building in NBA history. His greatest hits include turning down six draft picks in favor of Frank Kaminsky, referred to in NBA circles as a “stiff" and defying other members of his organization to take Malik Monk over Donovan Mitchell.

Monk is shooting 37.6 percent from the field for his career, while Mitchell is well on his way to becoming a superstar.

And let’s not forget Jordan’s tenure as a shot caller for the Wizards, in which he took Kwame Brown with the first overall pick and proceeded to emasculate him in practice and to the media until Brown cowered his way out of the league.

So the draft isn’t Jordan’s forte. What about free agency, when he handed out albatross contracts to the likes of Cody Zeller, Nic Batum (ouch), Tyrus Thomas (OUCH), Bismack Biyombo…sorry, I just blacked out for a second there.

Recent history hasn’t been much kinder. The start of the summer for the Hornets saw the team’s two leading scorers, Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, leave for greener pastures. Lamb signed a 3-year deal with the Pacers, while Walker bolted to the Celtics as part of a sign-and-trade. 

At last, we can finally credit Jordan for something – leaving the mire of mediocrity and bottoming out.

Still, Walker’s departure in particular raises questions. The Hornets say they weren’t willing to offer Walker a supermax and go into the luxury tax, which, as a middling team, is perfectly fine – except if they knew that, why didn’t they try to trade Walker and get some sort of return for him? 

Instead, their onetime franchise player left the Hornets empty handed.

You can say those decisions aren’t solely Jordan’s fault, and you’d be right. But His Airness is also the one responsible for hiring the right people to make those decisions. That’s what the best NBA owners do – hire the right people, then get out of the way. No interference necessary. 

If there’s one NBA sin Jordan has committed in his time in Charlotte, it’s not trusting his personnel. If he wants to be the GM, be the GM. But undermining the people he hires will probably never work out – it certainly hasn’t so far.

The Hornets completely bungled the Kemba Walker era. They’ve been hamstrung by bad contracts, near-ubiquitous misses on draft picks and a seeming acceptance of mediocrity, all of it exacerbated by a meddling owner.

Squint your eyes at that last sentence. Look really hard. Pretty Knickish, if you ask me.

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