Jordan taking patient approach in Charlotte
Picture the NBA free agency period beginning and Michael Jordan is on the phone making a recruiting pitch to LeBron James.
It's one the perks for the Charlotte Bobcats now that the Hall of Famer owns the team. Only being a big player in free agency isn't on Jordan's agenda - or even possible.
Unlike the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls, the Bobcats have no salary-cap space to participate in the summer free agency bonanza that could include James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire.
And Jordan doesn't mind. In moving from a minority investor with the final say on personnel decisions to the first former player be a majority owner of an NBA team, Jordan is preaching patience with his roster. He is vowing not to get into luxury tax territory with his payroll and showing distaste for what he feels is overblown hype for free agency this summer.
``That doesn't guarantee that New York is going to be in the playoffs,'' Jordan said shortly after his $275 million purchase of the team was approved last week. ``Everybody is second-guessing themselves. I like where we are. If I were to unload everybody on our team just so we can clear (salary-cap) space, does that mean they're going to come to Charlotte? It's no guarantee.''
The six-time NBA champion faces a number of issues as he takes over a club that's expected to lose more than $30 million this season. Besides trying to boost ticket sales and strike sponsorship deals, he'll continue to have the final say on basketball decisions.
Jordan acknowledged he has ``little wiggle room right now'' with the salary cap. He indicated they have committed between $57-59 million in payroll for next season, and that doesn't include impending free agents Raymond Felton and Tyrus Thomas.
Jordan said the league office has told teams the luxury tax threshold - where teams will have to pay a dollar for dollar tax for going over - could be as low as $61 million next season.
``If it's around $65 (million), we still have roughly $8 million to play with to stay underneath the luxury tax,'' Jordan said. ``I don't see a need to go over the luxury tax unless we go deep (in the playoffs) and we're a player away or we're close. I would (then) entertain that idea.''
The Bobcats have gotten into playoff position this season after a flurry of deals.
At the urging of coach Larry Brown, the Bobcats have made seven trades involving 21 players since the start of last season. It's Jordan's preferred way to improve the roster instead of through free agency and the draft, with the Bobcats owing future first-round picks to Minnesota and Chicago because of past deals.
Those trades, including Stephen Jackson's acquisition in November, have put the six-year-old Bobcats (35-34) one win shy of a franchise season record and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
``I'd like to give my team another year to bond and blend together and see if we can take it further, or we can find something along the road to get us over the hump,'' Jordan said. ``The thing about this team that people tend to forget is we haven't been together a year yet.''
Jordan said he wasn't going to ``box myself into'' saying if he felt the current core of players that includes Jackson, All-Star Gerald Wallace, Felton, Thomas and Tyson Chandler could develop into a contending team.
Actually, Jordan isn't sure of the best way to construct a championship roster.
``There are very few Kobe Bryants out there. LeBron hasn't won yet. Dwyane Wade had Shaq (O'Neal) sitting next to him and he had Pat Riley coaching him. So there are a lot of other components that come into play to say if you're an NBA championship team,'' Jordan said. ``Detroit did a great job in winning and they had no one superstar on that team. Boston won with three All-Stars. The Lakers won with two All-Stars.
``To say what's the clear cut ingredient to win a championship, I don't know. I really, really don't know. I think we have the ingredients to compete and surpass a lot of expectations.''
But the Bobcats could sure use another star. And if they clear some cap space in the future, Jackson thinks Jordan could lure big names to Charlotte.
``If Michael calls you, that's a call you're going to pick up,'' Jackson said Monday. ``He's such a big figure in this game, if not the biggest. He has a lot of pull and a lot of clout, so I think anything is possible with him being an owner.''
The 47-year-old Jordan may have sway with players who grew up idolizing him, but he's not about to overpay for talent or be a buddy to the players.
He understands the obstacles ahead to make the Bobcats a winner on the court and the box office.
``Which side am I on? I'm on the owners' side,'' Jordan said. ``If I was on the players' side then obviously I'd use someone else's dollars to be involved in this process. But it's my dollars involved.''