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Michael Jordan is the poster boy for the great player-bad general manager paradox

As a player, Michael Jordan had too many memorable moments to count.

As an owner/executive for the Wizards and then the Bobnets/Horcats, his most memorable moment came when LeBron stared him down mid-dunk in a punchless 2014 series between Miami and Charlotte. Why has he been so bad at his second job? A few ideas/trends among other great players turned front office failures:

  • The lack of perspective: How can a legend who never had to worry about playing time critically evaluate the seventh and eighth players on a team?

  • The sense of detachment: MJ had full control on the court. Watching his teams struggle must have come with a feeling of helplessness, which most certainly contributed to his Wizards return. 

  • The overconfidence: Unrelenting confidence works great when you’re down one in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals with 30 seconds left. Not so much when you’ve convinced yourself Frank Kaminsky is a future star. (More on that in a little.)

  • Bad luck: In 2012, the Bobcats finished second in the lottery, and picked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. New Orleans won, and picked Anthony Davis.

A quick catchup: MJ’s return to the NBA came first as part owner and head of basketball operations for the Wizards, in January of 2000. He served in that role, and had final say on roster decisions, until announcing his return to the team in September, 2001. As a player, it isn’t clear how much power he held over Washington’s team-building decisions, but it was enough to sway the front office into trading Rip Hamilton to the Pistons in 2002 for Jerry Stackhouse, igniting another run of glory for his ex-rivals in Detroit. From a recent Slate piece:

“Another piece of evidence that cuts against Jordan’s mythmaking: At the end of his first season, the Wizards traded promising young shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton because Jordan and head coach Doug Collins doubted his toughness and sturdiness.”

MJ finally retired for good in April, 2003 and was dismissed of his previously-held GM title in May of that year. He laid low until 2006, when he bought into the Bobcats as a part-owner, also assuming the role of Managing Member of Basketball Operations, a convoluted job he’s held in some capacity since. In his time running two NBA teams, he's drafted Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller all in the top-10, and has given fat contracts to flameouts Tyrus Thomas and Lance Stephenson. (The Bobcats have also had only three winning seasons and no playoff series wins since he took over.) None of those compare, however, to what he did on draft night, 2015, when Jordan turned down an intense haul of draft picks in favor of drafting Frank Kaminsky with the ninth pick: From ESPN:

“The Celtics made a strong final push to multiple teams in spots 4-9 on draft day. It culminated with an all-in effort in attempt to get Charlotte to deliver the No. 9 pick with Boston lusting for Duke forward Justise Winslow (the same player it coveted while trying to shuffle higher). According to sources, the Celtics' final offer to the Hornets was a package featuring as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections (a combination of picks from this draft and in the future). But the Hornets could not be swayed and turned down multiple offers to select Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.”

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