Why Can’t Michael Jordan Find His Mojo with the Charlotte Hornets?
The NBA legend just hasn’t been able to find anywhere near the level of success he had as a player now that he is running a team
NBA legend Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player to ever step on a court. Now nearly two decades after his final game, he has moved on to become the owner of the Charlotte Hornets; a post he has held for the past 10 years. However, with only two winning seasons in his tenure, and questionable decisions already made this offseason, it appears he is leading his team in circles with no clear path to the kind of success the former guard enjoyed as a six-time champion with the Chicago Bulls.
This offseason was an opportunity for Jordan to move the team to the next level, as he had a high draft pick (third overall) and some money to spend in free agency. Unfortunately, the moves that have been made thus far with that capital are for from being sure things.
Some believe that Charlotte lucked out when guard Lamelo Ball fell from being the possible top pick down to them at three. There is no denying he is a talented player, but he is also still just 19 and comes with more baggage than the typical NBA prospect.
Instead of going to college, Ball played in 12 games in the Australian NBL. He is a talented playmaker with great court vision but much like his older brother Lonzo, his shooting, especially from deep, is a work in progress. Defense is also mostly an afterthought for him, which will have to change as he moves up to the next level. He could turn into a big star or he could spin his wheels, again much like Lonzo, if he can’t make dramatic improvements in those key components of his game.
The primary reason Ball ended up overseas after high school instead of in a college dorm was because of his father Lavar, who can only generously be described as “involved.” Operating as the Kris Jenner of the basketball world, the former college player has been a vocal and omnipresent force in the life of his three basketball playing sons. Ever boastful, he has never backed down from putting himself and his son in the center of the basketball universe, despite a decided lack of an NBA track record. Never missing a trick when it comes to attempting to market them, including starting the Big Baller brand, his aggressive tactics and influence led to Lonzo putting his father at arm’s length when it came to his career.
Some of Lavar Ball’s abrasiveness has been his outspokenness and criticism of established players and coaches like Steph Curry and Jordan himself. Despite a lackluster Division One college career that saw him average 2.2 points in 26 games at Washington State in the 1980s, he has gone on record in his belief that he could beat Jordan one-on-one. Now that Lamelo is MJ’s employee, Lavar has recently doubled down on his boasting, even suggesting that the pickup game be done as a pay-per-view event.
Jordan is the ultimate competitor, which clearly hasn’t died since his playing career ended for anyone who watched this year’s Last Dance docu-series. It remains to be seen how much he is able or willing to put up with in terms of chirping from father Ball. It could get even uglier if Lamelo doesn’t develop as quickly as hoped, as Jordan has a track record of being relentless with those who weren’t able to meet his expectations.
The Hornets also quickly dove into free agency this offseason. While they landed a star, the actual player and the contract he was given immediately was met with surprise and doubt. They pulled in forward Gordon Hayward with a four-year, $130 million deal. The swingman can do a little bit of everything and made the 2017 All Star team but suffered a devastating ankle injury several years ago with the Boston Celtics and has only slowly come back to effectiveness.
Hayward, who will turn 31 in March, averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season, was seeking to return to being the centerpiece of a team, like what he was with the Utah Jazz earlier in his career. He may see his production ratchet up a notch in Charlotte but his age and injury history, along with a roster that still very much needs filling out after him and Ball, don’t seem like an inspiring combination.
The Hornets have guards Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham, but they are both smaller and struggle with shooting. Forward P.J. Washington had a promising rookie campaign last season but appears to be more of a complementary piece that a future star. In other words, Hayward and Ball are nice but are almost certainly not going to become the kind of core that can annually compete without some significant additional help.
Jordan must chafe at the mediocrity and lack of inspiration of the team he has guided for the past decade. Being an executive is hard and what has transpired this offseason under his guidance is seeming proof that being a legendary player just doesn’t translate to the same level of success in the front office. Perhaps his recent moves will prove to be more successful than they currently appear, but until that is confirmed they will continue to cast serious questions about what exactly he’s been doing with the foundering team.