Michael Jordan faces humiliating reality
NOT since he stood over home plate with a baseball bat in his hands have we seen Michael Jordan look so ordinary.
The NBA GOAT is facing the biggest challenge of his professional life as he deals with the wreckage that is the playing roster of the NBA franchise he owns in Charlotte.
Make no mistake, Jordan's venture into ownership has been a resounding success from a financial point of view.
Forbes estimates the value of the team has increased by more than $1 billion since he became the majority owner in 2010.
But from an on-court standpoint it's been a near-disaster. Jordan has had full control of the team's basketball operations since 2006 and in that span the Hornets have made the play-offs just three times.
They were swept in the first round in 2010 and 2014 before coughing up a 3-2 series lead to Miami in 2016.
But that 48-win campaign is a distant memory as the franchise lurches to its darkest place since coughing up an embarrassing 7-59 record in 2012.
The Hornets' net result from this week's free agency period - when All-Star guard Kemba Walker left for Boston and Celtics back-up Terry Rozier arrived as his replacement - has led to criticism of Jordan like never before.
New York Knicks owner James Dolan is widely known as the worst in the NBA but Jordan is beginning to earn unfavourable comparisons to a man who also struck out badly in free agency.
"I am his biggest fan as a player - (but) he has also turned into the worst owner-operator in all of sports, and I don't think it's even close," Skip Bayless said on Undisputed.
"I don't see any light at the end of their tunnel, I don't see where they're heading and I feel sorry for the people in Charlotte."
Fox Sports Radio host Jason Smith said: "We don't give attention to how bad an owner from the basketball side of things Michael Jordan has been since he took over the Hornets.
"He has had 11 lottery picks and the only one that stuck has been Kemba Walker, who he is now ready to move on from and start over.
"He has been terrible. In nine years they have made the play-offs twice and they've lost in the first round both times."
James Dolan is the only owner worse than Michael Jordan— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) June 30, 2019
"Just a really poorly run team," The Ringer's Bill Simmons said on his podcast. "They have the saddest roster anyone has put together in a while.
"Who is their marquee guy - Malik Monk? Bridges? Zeller? They have nobody, they're barren.
"It's shades of Brooklyn in the mid-2010s when it was super dark in the wake of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade and they had no lottery picks and it was Brook Lopez and nothing. A barren wasteland.
"This team might actually even worse. We talk about Dolan needing to sell the Knicks, it might be time, MJ. I'm not sure if ownership is the move for you. Might need to bring in some help."
ROZIER TO THE RESCUE?
Jordan did that last year when he hired Mitch Kupchak as general manager.
Kupchak, with a rather large helping hand from Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, helped deliver the Los Angeles Lakers five titles in a 17-year run.
But he's continued the type of dud deals that saw the Lakers badly overpay Luol Deng and Timofey Mosgov late in his tenure since moving to North Carolina.
No one was arguing the Hornets should have paid Walker a maximum $221 million five-year deal, but losing him for nothing was a catastrophe.
Then coughing up $58 million for three years to Rozier, who shone in Kyrie Irving's absence during the 2017-18 playoffs but averaged just nine points and three assists last season, was widely seen as another howler.
The Charlotte Hornets came undone by offering huge contracts to mediocre players. They are about to offer guard Terry Rozier a 3-year $58-million contract. The gamble is enormous, & there's the sense they again chose to overpay. Fans are furious, and curious, and they should be.— Tom Sorensen (@tomsorensen) July 1, 2019
It leaves the Hornets paying around $90 million next season for these six players - Nicolas Batum ($24 million), Rozier ($18 million), Bismack Biyombo ($17 million), Marvin Williams ($14 million), Cody Zeller ($13 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million). Ouch.
Some feel Jordan should be giving Kupchak more help. Smith took issue with his inability to use his legend status to sign players.
"This is the best player in the history of the NBA and he has been invisible," he said. "He should be like Magic Johnson, he should be in the news all the time trying to get people to play in Charlotte.
"Not that you get all the free agents, but they've got no free agents. How do you not use who you are? You are Michael Jordan."
It's striking given Walker's description of the gravitas Jordan still holds with NBA players. In a farewell piece for the Players Tribune, the 29-year-old described what it was like when he received his first phone call from the six-time champ after being drafted to Charlotte.
"He called me up and of course I recognised his voice instantly," he wrote for the Players Tribune. "I remember thinking, even in that moment, you know, like - damn. It's MIKE. And real calm, real cool, he just said, 'Kemba, we believe in you. I want you to know that. We believe in you, and we expect great things.'
"To some people, that probably sounds like any old pep talk. But what you have to understand is - it's like I said: It's MIKE. It's Air Jordan! It's the greatest, period.
"And you have the greatest, period, not just drafting you with this high pick but then also talking about how he expects greatness out of you? Man, I'm not exaggerating when I say that those words from MJ changed my life."
Hornets fans will be hoping Rozier undergoes the same transformation from unheralded and undersized guard to All-NBA talent. Otherwise it's going to be a long season in Charlotte.
The Hornets conceding they can't build around a max contract Kemba and letting him walk was fine right up until they point they traded for Terry Rozier and gave him $58 million over three years.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) July 1, 2019
No one has a better blueprint for not having a blueprint than the Hornets.
Either Michael Jordan should have all 6 of his rings taken away ...— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) June 30, 2019
or Mitch Kupchak should be fired https://t.co/pbTHrzPbW1
how about starting with NOT giving Rozier $58M?— Jared Greenberg (@JaredSGreenberg) July 1, 2019