On Tuesday, Charlotte Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan held a conference call with Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell and other media who regularly cover the team. It was clear in that interview that while Jordan values point guard Raymond Felton, it's no lock Felton will remain with the Bobcats beyond the Feb.19 trade deadline, because of his impending free agency. Jordan's responses (edited for clarity and brevity):
Q: There's been so much talk about Raymond Felton this season. Where do things stand with him as far as dealing with the fact he's going to be a restricted free agent?
No decision has been made. A lot of (teams) have called about Raymond. Our intention is to try to maintain our relationship with Raymond. I'm not saying we're searching for a trade. But if things happen, a deal that makes sense … I don't want Raymond to think I'm trying to trade him or whatever. But we've had some conversations, based on teams coming to us about him.
I'd like to think that Raymond is going to be here and we can come to an agreement over the summer about extending him. But I'm not going to say 100 percent that it's going to happen.
Q: When you look at the complications – both base-year compensation (which would make Felton hard to sign-and-trade in July) and restricted free agency – do you have any misgivings if this situation goes beyond the trade deadline?
It's a thought. Is it an issue? I wouldn't say so, because at the end of the day, if we extend Raymond, then we intend to keep Raymond. A lot of things can happen in negotiations. I don't want his agent thinking we'd be backed into a corner (if they don't trade him now), that they can ask for anything. …
If there's a deal that comes up, that we have to explore, then we have to do that from a business standpoint. But I can't say right now that's on the table.
He may sign that qualifying offer and then we lose him all together (a year later). That's a risk. But does that mean I take less value for what my player is? I wouldn't do it that way.
Q: How would you evaluate Felton's performance this season, versus in the past?
He's gotten better under coach (Larry) Brown. He's understanding what it means to be a point guard, differentiating that from a two-guard. … Raymond has demonstrated he has a long-term value for us. He can play the point; he's able to play the two.
Q: What would you say are the areas that still need to be addressed?
I think we need to shore up our bench a little more. We have a strong six or seven players, but to be a true playoff team, you're going to have to have a bench to support those six or seven players.
Q: Is there a particular position you're more concerned about than others?
As of right now, with Raja Bell hurt, we need a swing guy, more of a (shooting guard-small forward) who could come off the bench and offer support. Cartier Martin has done a good job for us, and we still have another open position. I'm waiting for coach to tell me what he wants to do about Cartier Martin for the rest of the season.
Q: You mention the open roster spot. Is it likely you'll leave that open until after the Feb.19 trade deadline to leave yourself some flexibility?
Pretty much, yeah, although injuries can always alter your thought process.
Q: How disappointing is it how things turned out for Morrison here?
It doesn't always work. We took a gamble when we took Adam Morrison. We looked at his stats, looked at the way he plays the game. We felt like he could fit in well. Since then, we made two coaching changes, and the latter coaches felt he could not fit within the circle of what we were trying to do.
Q: You have about $53-$55 million obligated to the salary cap for the 2010-11 season after acquiring Gana Diop and Vladimir Radmanovic. Are you at all concerned about using up that much cap space two years out?
I'm always concerned, but we still have some flexibility. And some tough decisions to make. Everyone looks at (the summer of) 2010 as the year to buy into free agency. I don't think stars will be moving as rapidly and as often as some think. That's just my opinion.
Q: You've always had misgivings about betting the future on signing big-name free agents, right?
How many name free agents have moved – real star players? Are we building a franchise where we can attract an elite star? Larry Brown has a Hall of Fame background, and I'd like to think the organization, as well as my input, shows we're headed in the right direction. But at the end of the day, when you talk about players losing money (by changing teams) – that extra year or that (higher) annual increase in salary (available to the retaining team, that's unlikely.)
I don't know if we have the corporate structure (in Charlotte) that a player could make that up in endorsements. I'm trying to be realistic.
Q: How would you evaluate Larry?
I think Larry has done a great job. He's evaluated, he's tried to fit the players into his style. We've had conversations constantly about players. There have been scenarios where we didn't agree and many when we did.
Q: What have you learned from drafting Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, top-three picks who didn't pan out?
Mistakes are going to be made. A lot of time things don't pan out. D.J. Augustin has panned out. I think Jared Dudley was a great pick (late in the first round). It's a gamble sometime, no matter how much evaluation …
You can't foresee a lot of things in the draft – athleticism, basketball love, passion. You try to evaluate that, but it's not a pure science. Kwame Brown is a great example; if we (the Wizards) don't take Kwame Brown at No.1, he's going to go at No.2. Everyone had him on the radar for the top pick, we just happened to (have) the top pick and we chose him.
We take the brunt of that. That's the gamble when you take a high school kid or maybe somebody not in (an elite college) conference or maybe a European player.
Q: Do you believe Sean May is close to playing regularly or are you playing out the string with him the rest of the season?
The coach presented a challenge to him and he's making up ground on those challenges. I think the kid can still play. He knows how to play. That first year he provided a lot of energy and a lot of skill. Getting him healthy has been the biggest issue. The unfortunate thing is a decision has to be made on Sean May this (summer, because of free agency). I wouldn't make it right now, but if the kid couldn't play, why would we be getting so many calls (from other teams)?
Q: Are you getting those calls because someone wants to acquire Sean May or his expiring contract?
A little bit of both because the kid has potential. He's low-risk (because his contract expires).
Q: Is Gerald Wallace now safe here?
We didn't put Wallace out there (as a trade commodity); other teams inquired. We have invested in Wallace because we think he can be an integral part of this success.
Q: This is obviously a better basketball team than the one that showed up in Wilmington, yet it isn't drawing much more fan interest. Has that been difficult to accept?
We're talking about tough economic times. I can't ask people in this community to build their lives around buying tickets to come to the Bobcats. What we do is provide entertainment. We hope that people, within their free time, will come out and enjoy us. To be upset that they choose not to entertain themselves, in the face of this economy, I can't argue that point.
We have to continue to draw them by making it more exciting.
Q: You were quoted awhile back about wanting to buy the entire team. Is that still the case and has anything happened with that?
I don't know if Bob is looking to sell the entire team. He's considering a lot of things, a lot of opportunities. My (desire) to grow as an investor is still strong. Purchasing the whole team, I don't think that's an option right now. But if parts of the team become available, and I can afford it as much as anybody, I'd definitely like to grow my investment in the Bobcats.
Who got in there and kicked the FO into shape? Great, honest, productive stuff lately.
Do you think LB would tolerate anything else? I suspect that he has more influence here than would be normal. I mean, without LB and his work and his input Bob Johnson might as well shut down the Cats team and organization and go elsewhere.