The Charlotte Bobcats hired GM Rich Cho in June of 2011, knowing full well that owner Michael Jordan would act as one of the strongest supporters of a potentially season-canceling lockout that started a month later. Even though the team enjoyed a brief playoff appearance in 2010, the franchise was bleeding money; a direct result of years worth of win-now moves made by Jordan as both personnel boss and eventual owner. As a long-needed rebuilding process took hold in 2011-12, and Jordan took flak from all manner of once-close friends, teammates and former co-workers, questions lingered as to how much MJ would stand aside if Cho dared to overrule the six-time champion on a decision. Owners overrule GMs all the time, and because Jordan and Cho come from such disparate backgrounds, the few that cared enough to pay attention to the Charlotte Bobcats wondered how things would work out once it came time for expected loggerheads.
According to a recent ESPN the Magazine profile, though, it appears as if Jordan truly has handed over the keys. Jordan is off working as the face of the franchise, making up for years of abuse heaped on the city from former NBA owners George Shinn and Robert Johnson, while Cho is behind the scenes and slowly developing the team from the ground up. From a .106 winning percentage-up, actually. From the Mag:
"Every single one of those moves is evidence that Michael is serious about getting out of the way," a rival Eastern Conference GM says. "They are now going to succeed or fail with Rich. And I can guarantee you that Michael has made sure that Rich knows that."
That same executive describes the 47-year-old Cho as a "Moneyball kind of guy," respected around the league for his involvement in the construction of the rosters of both Portland and Oklahoma City. According to Cho, when he left his job as the Trail Blazers GM to come to Charlotte 15 months ago, his marching orders from Jordan were simple and specific -- build through the draft and get free agents to complement the youngsters and put them over the top. The old Jordan, by his own admission, believed that if he cleared enough cap space, he could personally lure the likes of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. But as he learned last year, even "MJ" appearing on their caller IDs wasn't enough to offset the lure of LA.
It's not so much the lure of Los Angeles as it is the lure of winning. Players like Howard, Paul, Baron Davis, Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose spend most of their offseason in Los Angeles as it is — it's the fact that the Clippers and Lakers had ready-made winners on hand that was the main selling point. Kowtowing to a star and surrounding him with players he initially wanted, as Howard got in Orlando, isn't enough. You have to build a winner.
And you don't build a winner by drafting off of what ESPN's Ryan McGee called a "MJ March hunch."
That was apparently the case in 2011, just after Cho's hiring, when Jordan was the biggest sway behind drafting Kemba Walker. It certainly was the case in 2006, when Jordan took Adam Morrison. And a February hunch was certainly the reason Jordan let loose with a coveted (and, eventually, unprotected) lottery pick when he dealt for Tyrus Thomas in 2010.
McGee points out that Charlotte's pick in last June's NBA draft, swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is "Cho's kind of guy." That may very well be true, his all-around upside is significant, but he tends to check all the boxes that Jordan likes to pour over. MKG played deep into March on a prominent major program, and he's an athlete with a work ethic that coaches rave over. Work ethic and heart are well and good, but in some cases (and let's be sure here; we're not referring to Kidd-Gilchrist in this instance) that ethic is in place to cover for failings in other NBA-level areas. Adam Morrison practiced hard, too.
In short, it's an easy sell for Cho. So was the rebuilding, something that had to take place for basketball reasons (you need to bottom out, often times, before you start over) but also was essential for the team to survive financially. As we stated when Sam Vincent criticized Jordan, when Charles Barkley complained about his "yes men," and when Larry Brown whined about his former boss from afar, the real staredown between the two probably has yet to take place.
It's a good start, though. There will be cap space, there will be more lottery picks, and there will be room to grow past the 45-win ceiling Jordan once encouraged.
And, eventually, there will be a showdown between Jordan and Cho. It's only natural, and we can't wait.