The timing of Michael Jordan’s decision to sell his majority ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets has left the organization in flux, with several looming key personnel decisions.
The Hornets have the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night. They also have some difficult decisions to make in free agency in early July, including whether to re-sign embattled restricted free-agent Miles Bridges.
With the NBA’s Board of Governors unlikely to approve the team’s sale to an ownership group led by Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall until at least another month or two, the question becomes who’ll sign off on general manager Mitch Kupchak’s potentially franchise-altering decisions this summer?
Will it be Jordan, a lame duck majority owner? Or will the new ownership have a major input? Jordan will remain on as a minority owner after the sale is approved, so he still has a vested interest in the organization.
Bobby Marks, a front office insider for ESPN, said the timing of the announcement makes this a unique situation.
“Whether it’s Mitch or Michael making the decisions, I think you have to keep these guys from the new ownership group in the loop,” Marks said. “… At the end of the day, they don’t technically have a say in anything yet, but I would think they have to be part of the conversation, particularly when it comes to taking on future money.”
On the surface, the No. 2 pick wouldn’t be a complicated one with the Hornets likely choosing between G League star Scoot Henderson and Alabama’s Brandon Miller.
But Marks said the trade rumors swirling around the New Orleans Pelicans potentially being open to moving former No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson in order to secure the second or third pick in the draft complicates things for the Hornets.
Essentially, would a trade that has long-lasting implications sit well with new ownership?
“If they have a chance to move out of the two spot, what happens when you have salary involved that stretches past this year, which means money out of their pockets? I would think you would want to get (the new ownership group’s) blessing before taking on money like that,” Marks said.
ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy agrees.
“I would suspect there would be conversations about who they want to draft and sign before anything is finalized,” Van Gundy said.
Both Marks and Van Gundy believe the toughest decision ahead involves whether or not to re-sign Bridges.
A former first-round pick out of Michigan State, Bridges had a breakout season in 2021-22. He led the team in scoring and rebounding and appeared on the verge of a huge pay day last summer before felony domestic violence charges put his career on hold.
The 25-year-old Bridges wound up pleading no contest to the charges and agreed to three years probation. He missed all of last season.
The NBA ultimately determined Bridges will serve a 10-game suspension once he returns to the league. The league officially suspended him for 30 games, but determined 20 games of the suspension have already been served because Bridges already missed all 82 games in 2022-23.
“In terms of the new owners you have to wonder, is that what you want your first signing to be?” Marks said.
Added Van Gundy: “There is more to that (decision) than just basketball.”
Van Gundy believes the Hornets are in good hands in terms of personnel decisions with longtime NBA general manager Mitch Kupchak at the helm. He believes both Jordan and the new owners will rely heavily upon his opinion moving forward during this time of transition.
As a player, Jordan was a six-time NBA Finals MVP, a 14-time All-Star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He’s in the conversation as the greatest basketball player of all-time.
But he never approached that level of success as an owner. The Hornets were 423-600 in his 13 years as majority owner and never won a playoff series. Charlotte has failed to reach the playoffs seven straight seasons, the longest drought in the NBA.
Still, Van Gundy said he was surprised when reports first surfaced that Jordan was looking to sell the team.
“He always looked to be a hands-on owner,” Van Gundy said. “I know he has the fishing and the auto racing that he’s involved in, but I still didn’t expect him to get out of the NBA. And yet he looks like he is going to make a tidy profit, so good for him.”
Jordan purchased the team for $275 million in 2010 and will sell it for a reported $3 billion.
“You win with Michael Jordan the player,” Van Gundy added. “Those type of players will make you elite for a long time. You see it with (Nikola) Jokic. It’s hard to get those players, and when you do you are set up for a long period of time. … But the Hornets, they missed on a few high draft picks.”
After finishing 7-59 in the 2011-12 season, the Hornets failed to land the No. 1 pick in the lottery and missed out on star center Anthony Davis. Charlotte settled for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 2, passing on Bradley Beal and Damion Lillard.
The Hornets also selected Cody Zeller fourth overall in 2013 instead over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steven Adams, and swung and missed on top 10 picks Frank Kaminsky and Noah Vonleh in 2014 and 2015.
“It’s about the roster, the roster, the roster,” Van Gundy said. “The most important person in every organization is the person who picks the players.”
And the owner that signs off on them.