Center Al Jefferson was a game-changer on the court for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Coach Steve Clifford thinks Jefferson can have the same impact this summer for the now-Hornets. The Hornets will have at least $13 million in cap space to pursue free agents. Clifford said Jefferson’s presence makes the Hornets a much better sell.
“He’s dramatically changed where we’re at as a franchise from one year to the next,” Clifford said of Jefferson, who last week was named All-NBA. “He changed his career with what he did this year, and it was already a really good career. He’s made this a more attractive place for people to come and play. No question about that.”
Hornets owner Michael Jordan addressed free agency Monday in his first extended comments since the Bobcats’ season ended in a 4-0 playoff sweep by the Miami Heat.
After an appearance to contribute $250,000 to help fund teacher projects in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Jordan said he believes Charlotte now is a free-agent destination and he hopes to sign another “superstar” this summer to play alongside Jefferson.
Jefferson signed a three-year contract last summer, immediately becoming the Bobcats’ best player. Clifford agrees with Jordan they are building an attractive case with free agents-to-be.
“The No. 1 thing in free agency is going to be money – that’s just how the world works. The second thing is a good place to live where you can win,” Clifford said. “If you have money to be competitive, then we have a good place to play in a great basketball area. (Jefferson) makes us a much more attractive, viable option in terms of the quality of our team.”
Jefferson said at a news conference last week he has started recruiting potential teammates, spreading the word that Clifford is a coach players would enjoy.
With superstars such as Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony able to opt out of their contracts, the 2014 free-agent class could have a lot of sizzle.
It’s probably unrealistic to think a James or Anthony would leave his current situation to sign in Charlotte, but there are plenty of other complementary players who could improve the Hornets.
Among logical targets: Small forwards Luol Deng (Cleveland), Lance Stephenson (Indiana), Gordon Hayward (Utah) and Trevor Ariza (Washington), plus Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe.
Hayward and Monroe will be restricted free agents, which complicates pursuing them. Their teams will have the right to match any other team’s contract offer.
Clifford said he has no doubt Jordan and the front office will be aggressive this offseason. The Hornets are well positioned, between the cap space and three draft picks (Nos. 9, 24 and 45).
“That’s been (Jordan’s) message ever since I got here – use any means possible to get better – draft, trades, free agency,” Clifford said. “We’re on top of it. We’re highly organized. Not just with the draft, but with free agency, we have a plan. They’re looking at potential trades. I certainly feel like we’re in a position where something good could happen again.”
Price ‘ready’ to be a head coach: Clifford confirmed reports that the Cleveland Cavaliers have asked permission to interview assistant coach Mark Price for their head-coaching job.
“Obviously we don’t want to lose him. He’s done a great job here. But he’s ready to be a head coach,” Clifford said.
Price was at the Hornets’ training facility Tuesday morning, working with small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but media didn’t get the chance to speak with him. Price was one of the most popular players in Cavaliers history. Over his nine seasons in Cleveland he made four All-Star appearances.
Clifford said Price isn’t the only Hornets assistant ready for the next step. Associate head coach Patrick Ewing interviewed for the Bobcats job Mike Dunlap got in June 2012.
“Stephen (Silas) is ready to be a head coach, and Patrick is ready to be a head coach. Again, the commitment Michael made last summer and the work Rod (Higgins) and Rich (Cho) did. We spent a lot of time and a lot of money putting this staff together. We have a great staff, and it makes things a lot easier on me.”
UNC’s McDonald added: Three draft prospects originally scheduled for Tuesday – UCLA’s Jordan Adams, Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown and Virginia’s Joe Harris – didn’t make it to Charlotte because of travel problems.
The Hornets invited North Carolina’s Leslie McDonald as a late fill-in. A 6-foot-5 guard, he said he was thrilled to get the call, and this was his first NBA workout.
Asked generally about the value of pre-draft workouts, Clifford said he doesn’t impose his opinions on the front office, which monitors college basketball much more closely than he can.
“As a coach, you have to be careful about your role in the draft,” Clifford said. “When they ask me, I let them know what I think. But my evaluation is more so that if we do pick (a particular player), I’m a step ahead as far as how they play, a better chance to lead them in the right direction.”
Stauskas scheduled: Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas, a viable candidate for the Hornets’ ninth pick, is scheduled for a Wednesday workout in Charlotte. Others the Hornets have scheduled: Semaj Christon, Xavier; Drew Crawford, Northwestern; DeAndre Kane, Iowa State; Sebastian Koch, Elon; and Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell