It is what it is, as we like to say in the NBA. And you are who you are, which extends even beyond our world, though few around the NBA know that world exists.
And so it is with Michael Jordan as well, lately the part owner and basketball operations director of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Why Jordan is having such a difficult time having success in Charlotte is because Michael is just being Michael. He’s doing it as he sees it, and for Michael – for many stars, really – this job is so difficult because the construction of anything great requires subtlety as much as skill. And seeing both.
Because it’s about team building and not talent.
And they can be mutually exclusive.
Sure, you need talent, but the evasive part is the talent that meshes, that fits.
We see every day some team struggling with the combination. Now it’s the Phoenix Suns, who seemed like a championship contender days ago, and they began their new journey Wednesday with Shaquille O’Neal. And we hear now about chemistry and mix and the right group.
It was entertaining to listen to Kobe Bryant last weekend explaining the elements of building a team.
Bryant, of course, has had a bad year doing that, basically trashing his team last spring, trying to get himself traded to what we can clearly see now is a flawed Chicago Bulls team and finally accepting he had to stay with the Lakers, where his team is, sigh, now one of the favorites to win the NBA championship.
“I was frustrated,” Bryant shrugged about having lashed out last spring and demanded to be traded, to the point Bryant apparently was telling some in the media he’d never again wear a Lakers uniform. “We haven’t won in three years. You have an opportunity to get a player like Jason Kidd. Everybody thought I was knocking Andrew (Bynum). But the truth of the matter is Jason Kidd is one of the greatest point guards of all time. Why would you not want to do that deal?”
That was the trade the Nets tried during last year’s All-Star break – which the Lakers rejected and sent Bryant spiraling into becoming his own talk radio call out show by the spring.
“I’m glad I wasn’t the GM,” Bryant says now with a laugh.
I recall a similar scene with the Chicago Bulls of the late 1980s.
Jordan wasn’t getting anywhere despite what was clearly the best individual talent in the NBA. His was winning the oohs and aahs of the fans while his team was 1-10 in its first 10 playoff games. It’s a feeling you figure LeBron James, coming off his second All-Star MVP in the last three years, is getting now with his team hardly regarded by anyone as a contender even if it went to the Finals last season.
Phil Jackson, then as an assistant with the Bulls, had been pushing for the team to trade for Knicks center Bill Cartwright, a big man to at least hold off the big men in the East, which then was a physical big man’s conference. Eventually, the Bulls made the trade for Charles Oakley, a talented young forward and close friend with Jordan. Jordan was furious and for several years derided Cartwright, the trade and management for making it.
Just before the fourth game of the Eastern Conference finals in 1991 as the Bulls were on the way to sweeping the Detroit Pistons and winning their first of six NBA championships, Jordan came out and admitted he was wrong and how much the Bulls needed Cartwright to get by the Pistons‘ James Edwards, the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing, the Celtics‘ Robert Parish and the Cavs‘ Brad Daugherty.
It’s why owners and general managers have to be smart and not let their stars make trades. They see talent and how to combine it.
The Bobcats have been a major disappointment, if only in regard to their own public expectations.
Rookie coach Sam Vincent, who is in hot water with his players and could be out after one season (like Jordan’s first coach in Washington, Leonard Hamilton), talked about a top four finish for the Bobcats this season. I suspect it was less a prediction than an attempt at motivation. He virtually guaranteed a playoff spot, and while it never looks good when you are wrong, what was he supposed to do? Say they weren’t a playoff team. He’s a former Jordan backcourt running mate with the Bulls. It’s his first head coaching job, so maybe he gets another chance next season. Jordan also doesn’t want to appear to be running through coaches too quickly.
The problem is the makeup of the team.
Jordan sees stars and gets them, but they don’t necessarily fit.
The Bobcats have done a good job of developing Gerald Wallace, an athletic wing player. So what do they do? They add athletic wing player Jason Richardson. Certainly a talent, but the team gets into the my turn/your turn thing Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony share in Denver.
Players have to play off one another, a team being a fit like jigsaw puzzles, pieces with different skills in different sizes and shapes coming together to fit at a time.
Perhaps the best at it these days is the Pistons’ Joe Dumars, with whom the Bobcats made their other deal of late.
Give Jordan this: Though he gets criticized by other GMs, privately at least, for not working hard enough because he doesn’t scout or come around much due to to his worldwide celebrity and the potential distraction when he is on the scene, he has tried to address needs.
The Bobcats were faltering in the middle, so he traded Primoz Brezec and Walter Hermann, both with expiring contracts, for Nazr Mohammed. The Pistons were anxious to get Mohammed’s three years off their books, but Mohammed does little to complement Emeka Okafor as both will generally step out about 10 feet to make a shot. Neither is a true post-up player.
The guards, Raymond Felton and Jeff McInnis, the latter a cheap pickup, are both shooting guards trying to be point guards.
Jordan knows talent, and he has talented players. But he has difficulty distinguishing how you make it a team. Though he’s hardly alone. It’s much more difficult than it seems.