Years ago Hornets owner Michael Jordan publicly envisioned a time when NBA players would view Charlotte as a free-agent destination.
Sounds like Jordan believes that time is now.
“I always thought it was a great destination,” Jordan said Monday. “I think Big Al (Jefferson) proved you can come here and make a big difference. Hopefully we can look at that and attract some other superstar.”
Jordan spoke to media at Hornets Nest Elementary School. The occasion was a $250,000 contribution the Hornets, Lowe’s and FOX SportsSouth made, creating a teacher-innovation fund for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools faculty.
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The conversation quickly turned to the opportunities the Hornets have this offseason. They have three picks in the June 26 NBA draft (Nos. 9, 24 and 45) and at least $13 million in space under the salary cap.
Last summer the then-Bobcats made a high-impact signing in center Jefferson, who finished the season third-team All-NBA. The Bobcats finished the regular season 43-39 and qualified for the playoffs under new coach Steve Clifford.
Jordan sees his team matching that progress this summer.
“I think we can make a big difference,” Jordan said. “We did last year with Big Al and some of the other acquisitions. I don’t anticipate this being any different. I think we’ll try to improve on what we did last year, which I’m very proud of.
“The guys came out and took the initiative from coach. He was able to bond and get a really good effort. This (offseason) we have a lot of flexibility. I’ve been speaking about that the last three to four years – (how) that flexibility is very important. We’ll utilize every resource to improve the team. I don’t think that will change this summer.”
Jordan has said his short-term goal is the Hornets becoming a top-four team in the East, which would give them homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They were the seventh seed last month and were swept in the first round by the Miami Heat.
Jordan believes the improvement would come both internally and externally.
“We’ve got to make sure we find people who want to come here,” Jordan said. “We have a bunch of young talent we’re still trying to nurture into better players. The summer is when we need to make our big leap. We’ll know at the beginning of the season if Jeff Taylor’s gotten better, if (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) has gotten better, if Cody Zeller has gotten better.
“Kemba (Walker) has shown that he can get better. And Big Al comes back with another powerful season. I hope he’s an All-Star. I thought he deserved it last season. Being all-pro this year hopefully gets him into that (discussion) that makes you an All-Star.”
Jordan said Jefferson, who averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, exceeded his expectations when they signed him nearly a year ago.
“He was a little bit better – All-NBA,” Jordan said. “We were hoping for that, but it was a pleasant surprise how well everybody adjusted. Everybody surrounded him and got better. (Josh) McRoberts was a huge part of that.”
McRoberts is one of this offseason’s questions, since he can opt out of next season on his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. Jordan has called power forward McRoberts a crucial piece, for his ballhandling, passing and decision-making.
Jordan was asked about the name change, which he said was even better received than he anticipated.
“Obviously the city loves the name change,” Jordan said. “We knew that it would be something like this because of the survey that we did. But we didn’t think it would be to this magnitude. We can build from this as an organization.”
Draft workout: The Hornets will hold a workout Tuesday for six draft candidates, who appear to be second-rounders. Players scheduled: Jordan Adams, UCLA; Markel Brown, Oklahoma State; Joe Harris, Virginia; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa; Casey Prather, Florida; C.J. Wilcox, Washington.