Monday, March 22, 2010

Assessing MJ as Charlotte's Head Guy

Last week I assessed Michael Jordan's job performance as head of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards from 2000-2003. My co-bloggers, away from this forum, have granted that he muffed his DC assignment, but yet have entered in a spirited colloquy as to the quality of Jordan's job performance since becoming head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats in June 2006. Let us assess his record with respect to three categories: draft picks, player transactions, and building a coaching/management team.


Jordan has helmed the Bobcats for four drafts now, starting in 2006. For each first-round draft pick, I will list the player chosen by Jordan, along with the five players chosen immediately afterwards in sequence.

2006: Adam Morrison
Next selected candidates: Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay
Verdict: This was a horrible pick. Thomas, Williams, and Foye have disappointed in the pros, but at least they have played better than Morrison. Roy has made three All-Star teams, and Gay has played at a near-All-Star level.

2007: Brandan Wright (Wright was immediately traded to GSW for Jason Richardson.)
Next: Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes, Acie Law, Thaddeus Young, Julian Wright
Verdict: Brandan Wright has been injured for much of his three-year NBA tenure, so this choice is hard to judge. We do know that Noah, Hawes, and Young have revealed themselves to be legitimate NBA starters, and Noah has performed at a near-All-Star level for Chicago.

2008: D.J. Augustin
Next: Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph
Verdict: Lopez looks like a quality starting center and potential All-Star for the next decade. The other four players have shown great promise as well. Augustin had a nice rookie year, but has seen his minutes, percentages, and general production decline across the board in 2009-10. Not a good pick.

2008: Alexis Ajinca
Next: Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum
Verdict: Lee started on a Finals team. Batum has started almost all his games for Portland, a serious playoff team, in his first two seasons. Anderson contributes to a title contender in Orlando, and Ibaka recently acquired the moniker "Dr. Nasty" for his work in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, who is Alexis Ajinca? Apparently he has only played in 6 games this entire season.

2009: Gerald Henderson
Next: Tyler Hansbrough, Earl Clark, Austin Daye, James Johnson, Jrue Holiday
Verdict:All these players save Holiday have seen middling results in their rookie seasons. 65 games is probably too soon to assess the long-term wisdom of a draft selection. But still, Henderson averages 8 minutes and 2 points per game, disappointing for a lottery pick.

I give Jordan a D grade as a drafter.


  • Summer 2006: Signed Othella Harrington, Jake Voskuhl, Walter Herrmann as free agents

  • June 2007: Traded lottery pick Brandan Wright to GSW for Jason Richardson

  • December 2007: Traded Walter Herrmann and Primoz Brezec to Detroit for Nazr Mohammed

  • January 2008: Signed Earl Boykins as a free agent

  • August 2008: Signed Shannon Brown as a free agent

  • December 2008: Traded Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to Phoenix for Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, and Sean Singletary

  • January 2009: Traded Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins to Dallas for Desagana Diop

  • February 2009: Traded Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown to Los Angeles for Vladimir Radmanovic

  • July 2009: Traded Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler

  • September 2009: Signed Stephen Graham as free agent

  • November 2009: Traded Raja Bell and Radmanovic to Golden State for Stephen Jackson and Acie Law

  • February 2010: Traded Flip Murray and Acie Law to Chicago for Tyrus Thomas

  • February 2010: Traded a second-round draft pick for Theo Ratliff

  • March 2010: signed Larry Hughes

  • Verdict: Most of these transactions were fairly inconsequential. The trade of Jason Richardson was presumably necessary because new coach Larry Brown was not fond of J-Rich's defense-free ways.

    The best transaction above was the acquisition of Stephen Jackson at the beginning of this season. Despite his complaining out in Oakland, Jackson's defensive fire and emotional leadership, filling a need on a team formerly led by the laconic Gerald Wallace, have helped to propel Charlotte into a playoff spot for the first time in the team's six years.

    The worst transaction on this list has to be the Okafor-Chandler trade. In nine NBA campaigns, Chandler has averaged double figures in points only once, and double figures in rebounds only twice: all when he played with PG extraordinaire Chris Paul. He also has missed nearly 70 games to foot injury during the past two seasons, including 31 this season. Prior to that trade, Oklahoma City almost traded for Chandler in February 2009, but rescinded the deal when Chandler's former surgeon looked at his medical records and pronounced him a walking suture. Meanwhile, Okafor averaged a double-double in each of his first five seasons, and is only 0.8 RPG shy of a double-double for 2009-10. After missing time in his second and third seasons, he has been quite durable in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10, playing in 235 of 235 possible games. It is true that Chandler's contract expires in June 2011, while Okafor is extended through 2014, so perhaps the extra financial flexibility is a plus for Charlotte. Still, on the court this had terrible results.

    I give Jordan a B grade as a roster steward.


    Upon joining the Bobcats in 2006, Jordan wisely opted to retain coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who had piloted a young and raw squad through its first two seasons together. By mutual agreement, Jordan and BB decided at the end of 2006-07 (a 33-49 campaign) that the team needed a fresh voice.

    In May 2007, Jordan named Sam Vincent, a former Chicago teammate of Jordan, as the Bobs' new head coach. This was probably a poor decision, as Vincent had only one season of prior NBA assistant experience on his résumé. The Bobcats regressed, winning 32 games (one fewer than the previous season) in 2007-08.

    Around the same time he hired Vincent, Jordan began searching for a new general manager, an underling of sorts to Jordan's role as head of basketball operations. Jordan hired Rod Higgins, who had played with Jordan in Chicago during MJ's rookie season, 1984-85. This penchant for choosing old cronies (detailed in my prior post, wherein I described Jordan's hiring of Charles Oakley and Bryon Russell) likely does not result in the selection of the most outstanding candidates.

    In April 2008, Jordan fired Vincent as head coach and hired Larry Brown, who had not been seriously employed since leaving the Knicks' head coaching job in a bitter split two years prior. Brown, a fellow UNC alum, represented a sizable risk, as his average tenure in his eight previous NBA coaching jobs was 3 years per stop. Brown tends to get "itchy" after seeing a few autumns and springs go by in the same place. Who can blame him, really? If I had the chance to get paid millions and experience life in multiple world-class cities, I would surely take it. Still, Brown has done a good job with Charlotte, improving from 32 wins in 2007-08 to 35 wins in 2008-09 and, based on current projections, 44 wins this year. Making the playoffs is difficult without a slam-dunk All-Star player on your roster, so Brown deserves great credit. Thus far, this was a good decision by Jordan.

    Unfortunately, the roster seems to be "maxed out"; without any major stars, the team cannot ascend to a championship level, and Brown's championship experience will be for naught. Jordan faces major challenges in determining how to improve the roster without destroying it first.

    I give Jordan a B-minus grade for his management team decisions.

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Jordan's Performance in DC

    Via ESPN's Truehoop, I note that new Bobcats owner Michael Jordan attempted today to take credit for the success of the Washington Wizards over the last decade:

    When I first got to Washington, people didn’t understand the financial position that team was facing. In Washington we put together a five year plan that included clearing huge salaries off the books to create cap flexibility, and building a roster that would become a playoff contender. In just three years, we went from almost $22 million over the cap to more than $8 million under, and traded veterans with big contracts for young talent. In year five, with a roster made up mostly of guys we brought in, they made the playoffs.

    Let us review the chronology of Jordan's tenure with the Wizards, however.

    Jordan was hired to run the Wizards' basketball operations midway through the 1999-2000 season. He was fired by owner Abe Pollin in May 2003 just after the regular season concluded. (You will recall that in that period he also decided to return as a player, an oddly self-indulgent decision.)

    Following the MJ departure, the Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas, previously of Golden State, as a free agent in July 2003 and acquired Antawn Jamison by trade (for Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, and a draft pick which became Devin Harris) in July 2004. The Wizards finally made the playoffs, with Arenas and Jamison as their best players, in April 2005. They went on to make the playoffs in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

    Jordan clearly was not responsible for the acquisition of those two players (or for Caron Butler, who was acquired in a trade with the L.A. Lakers in the summer of 2005), who together proved to be the core of the Wizards' playoff half-beast. It really is not clear to me what role he played in the construction of that team. His major acquisitions for the Wizards — Laettner, Kwame Brown, Larry Hughes, and Stackhouse — were all gone by July 2005.

    In 2002 he also signed his gambling buddy Charles Oakley as a free agent and his one-time nemesis Bryon Russell, probably so that, as a GM-player, he could settle the controversy from his original "push off" (the genesis of this blog's name) against Russell in 1998. He also traded away promising young guard Richard Hamilton, who eventually proved to be the starter on a six-time conference finals team, because Hamilton had rubbed Jordan wrongly on the court.

    I certainly hope that he does a better job with Charlotte than he did with Washington.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Bulls v. Mavericks Recap

    Last Saturday, March 6th, one-third of the JPO team walked into the hall of haram, the jardin of Jordan, that bastion of bollocks, Chicago’s United Center. I've made no secret that since my childhood, I've been no fan of the Bulls. Yet for non-basketball-fanhood reasons I find myself living in Chicago now, so there is but one place to go to witness NBA action. For the third time this season, I steeled myself to the odium that permeates Bulls games for me, and settled down to watch Vinny Del Negro’s bunch scrap out 48 hard minutes.

    On this night Chicago drew Dallas, which has improved its roster and said roster’s “swag” quite a bit since trading for Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and Deshawn Stevenson in February. Despite the talent gap, Chicago hung tight with the Mavericks, eventually losing by six points. Through video illustration (thank you Mom and Dad for that new camera!) I want to highlight three areas in the development of both teams: (i) Derrick Rose's improving jump shot, (ii) the Mavericks' hustling propensity, and (iii) unbelievably pretty assist-making by Rodrigue Beaubois. I took several more videos than what are shown here, but these shall be enough for one blog post.


    Rose has been knocked throughout his first two pro seasons for his lack of long-range shooting ability. Unlike other leading point guards, he rarely attempts 3-pointers. Yet, as this recent ESPN article notes, Rose has recently been ardently practicing his long ball and has tried out his hand at 3s more and more in real games.

    In each of the next two videos, Dallas's Jason Kidd clearly fails to respect Rose's shooting ability, apparently having studied Rose's season averages. However, averages can belie recent trends, and Rose's recent trend is Just Swish, Baby:

    Here, three Dallas defenders including Barea, Najera, and Nowitzki all elect not to challenge Rose's shot, and he makes them pay:


    Rick Carlisle's teams (the Pistons of 2001-2003 and then the Pacers of 2003-2007) have been known for disciplined play. How did Indiana make the playoffs in 2004-05 after losing hundreds of man-games to injuries and suspensions? Carlisle just knows how to scrap and win. Clearly, he has imparted that knack to his current Mavs team; by contrast, young Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro is still figuring that part out.

    Here, Dirk Nowitzki scores, and then Caron Butler and Shawn Marion pick the pocket of Derrick Rose as the latter attempts to bring the ball up the court:

    And watch here as Caron Butler sneaks in to steal an offensive rebound and sink an easy layup, robbing the Bulls of what should have been a fast break in the other direction:


    Rodrigue Beaubois, a slight rookie from Guadeloupe via the French LNB pro league, has impressed a great deal in his limited court time this season. On this night in Chi-town, Roddy B tallied 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, spelling the injured Jason Terry. The Mavs are stuffed with talent and, with J.J. Barea and Terry on the roster, there may not be much room for another 72-inch guard. However, look at this guy's ability to dish the ball.

    Here, he makes a Magic-like near-no-look pass to Dirk Nowitzki, who swishes a shot from the top of the key.

    Here, he again whips a pass to Dirk, who drives and draws a shooting foul.

    Here, Beaubois throws it to Eduardo Najera, who uncharacteristically sinks a 3-ball.

    Being so lithe and lean, Beaubois may have some problems defending guards with any heft, however. Here, Derrick Rose (continuing our theme from above) easily outmuscles Beaubois and drains a baseline jumper:

    Of course, Beaubois is not the only great passer on Dallas. Here, Jason Kidd threads the figurative needle, delivering an entry pass to Shawn Marion in prime scoring position.

    Finally, in this video, two sweet passes by Barea and Najera lead to an easy basket by Caron Butler.


    Both teams are on the way up, but stand now at different levels. The Mavericks hope they can seriously push Denver or Los Angeles in the playoffs for the Western crown. Chicago is having yet another mediocre season (they've won only one playoff series in the last 11 seasons before this one, as I detailed in this post last month) and they are currently 9th in the Eastern Conference, probably lottery-bound once again. Yet with promising young players Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson, they may have the basis of a good team, especially if they can add a top free agent this summer. The Bulls would do well to learn from the Mavericks' pretty play-making and hustling fire. The Mavs — well, frankly, they don't have much to learn from the young Bulls.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    2010 Is Basketball Christmas All The Time

    The next six months will be spectacular for any basketball fan.

    March brings the NCAA men's and women's tournaments, a dazzling display of communal vice channeled into peace.

    April brings the end of the NBA regular season, jockeying for playoff position, and speculation on individual awards.

    May brings (after a fairly trivial first round of playoffs to close the prior month) what will be a thrilling "Elite Eight" of playoffs among Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, Cleveland, San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles.

    June heralds an NBA champion, and perhaps the crowning of a new individual King in the sport. Then comes the NBA draft, with its debutants who make you wonder which will be real.

    July brings the greatest free-agent season in NBA history. There is a moderately high probability that at least two of the top 10 players in the league will switch teams.

    August (stretching into September) brings the FIBA World Championship, the most exalted international contest for folks who care. (Try comparing the Olympic tennis gold medal to Wimbledon.) After three straight failures in international tournaments, the US team won in Beijing in 2008; can they do it again?

    Wow wow wow!