The biggest thing Michael Jordan has learned as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats? Admit and rectify mistakes quickly.
For example, replacing Mike Dunlap one season into his tenure as coach.
“I actually liked Mike, I absolutely did. I said it last year when we first hired him that I could have played for him. But that doesn’t translate to today’s kids,” Jordan told the Observer Friday.
“The difference between Steve (Clifford) and Mike is the kids are understanding and articulating what (Clifford is) saying.”
During a half-hour interview with the Observer, Jordan expressed confidence in the new mix of veterans (Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts) and youngsters (Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, etc.)
Surprisingly he called power forward McRoberts, who arrived in a mid-season trade last February, the key player this season. McRoberts quickly improved the Bobcats’ ball movement simply by swinging the ball to the weak side of the defense far more than others had.
“The success of this team is McRoberts – how well he can connect the dots,” Jordan said. “Remember last season. Every time he played, we played better. (Gerald) Henderson got more consistent with McRoberts. He is the key, along with Big Al staying healthy and how well we can use the big guy.”
Signing Jefferson (three years, $41 million) and re-signing McRoberts and Henderson were big moments in a busy offseason. That offseason started with the firing of Dunlap, who coached the Bobcats to a 21-61 record. Dunlap’s brusque personality didn’t mix well with the players.
“When I saw the same things happen in October happening in February, then I started to see that things were not” improving, Jordan said. “And the players started to see it. That was unfortunate. That’s when you admit you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make the situation better.”
Clifford is the third Bobcats coach in as many seasons, but Jordan thinks the team is on the rise. He particularly likes the mix of personalities on the roster.
“I see 15 guys who get along. The energy and the culture within the locker room seem to be very positive. That translates to the way they play – the trust factor on defense,” Jordan said.
“There are going to be nights when things don’t go completely right – the shooting or whatever – but if the fans can see the effort every night, we’ll win our share of games. The talent pool has changed and the rules have changed, but the (importance of) collective effort never changes.”
Jefferson was the most expensive and significant free-agent signing in the Bobcats’ 10 years of existence. This is the first time they have a low-post scorer who will demand a double team. Jordan is confident Jefferson will perform, but not so sure his teammates will know how best to play off him.
“Al, when he gets it in the post, will know what to do with it. What’s new is our getting it into the post. We’ve never had reason to pass into the post,” Jordan said.
“If we stay healthy, the second half of the season we’ll see what we can be. If we use Al, if we maintain our spacing, we’ll find out how good our young kids can be.”
The “young kids” are abundant: Rookie Zeller, point guard Walker, backup center Bismack Biyombo and small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor.
On Walker: “It’s going to be interesting for him with Mark Price here (as an assistant coach). Mark was a guy who, for his size, got the most out of (his potential). A great shooter, a great leader, a great assist guy. They’re the same size and I just want (Kemba) to take bits and pieces from Mark.”
On Kidd-Gilchrist: “He shows us signs, but he also shows signs of being a 19- or 20-year-old kid … When they get on our level, the learning curve is a little more difficult. The (college) coach can work with them every day because there are less games. He is learning on the run. Not that he doesn’t have the talent. He wants to do well, wants to learn, but it’s hard to learn in this culture. There are so many games going on. We have 82 games.”
On Biyombo: “Biyombo is either going to give us (what they want) or we’ll look at some other avenues for backup centers.”
On Taylor: “Jeffery Taylor had a great summer and I’m hoping what he did in the summer translates to the regular season. He has that shy look about him. I wish I could hug him every time to give him that energy every day.”
On Zeller: “I like versatile guys, guys who can play multiple positions. I think Cody fits that bill … Great touch, great hands, can run the floor. Super basketball IQ.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell