In baseball, there’s a man named Jack McKeon. He’s known in baseball circles as “Trader Jack.” He’s a retired manager who is the oldest manager to win a World Series (2003 with the Florida Marlins). He managed 5 different teams for 15 seasons over a period of 32 years; 9 years he spent as the GM of the San Diego Padres. But what does all this have to do with the Bobcats, besides McKeon’s link to the Carolinas (he graduated from Elon and still lives there)? Well, Trader Jack is very similar to Michael Jordan.
Now, anyone who knows baseball knows that Trader Jack’s personality is more like Bobcats coach Larry Brown. Both are journeymen, tend to wear on players, and demand trades like they do a change of clothes. But McKeon has more in common with MJ. You see, both had bad starts by most measures – Jordan’s in Washington and McKeon’s in Kansas City with the Royals. But when you look deeper, you see they weren’t as bad as originally thought. McKeon managed the Royals and A’s in his first two jobs, but was unable to have much success. However, after the Royals fired him, the team he’d put into place made the playoffs 4 of the next 5 seasons. The A’s he managed were mostly intact when they made the ALCS a few years later. Jordan as GM in Washington moved a multitude of bad contracts that were hampering the Wizards flexibility and gave them lots of cap space by the time he was relieved of his job. This allowed the Wizards to form a core in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison that made the playoffs multiple times. But they also bear similarities in how their next jobs went. McKeon took over as GM of the Padres and promptly built a winner: the team made the World Series in his 4th season on the job. He drafted Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and stars John Kruk and Andy Benes, and also signed stars Benito Santiago and Roberto Alomar as amatuers. He brought in veteran star Steve Garvey and Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage. Jordan has been on the job for nearly four years now, and has drafted young talent in Ryan Hollins, Jared Dudley (both since traded), DJ Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown. He’s signed diamond in the rough Stevie Graham, and traded for star Stephen Jackson and veterans Theo Ratliff, Boris Diaw, and Nazr Mohammed to go with growing talent Tyrus Thomas. Now, I’m not predicting a trip to the NBA Finals, but Jordan, like McKeon, has reached a desired spot in a short amount of time.
Ok, you say, that’s all well and good, but isn’t MJ the guy who drafted Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison? Sure, he did. No Hall of Famers there. But if you look at the rest of his resume, you’ll find that he’s actually done very well, albeit under the radar. While he did draft Brown #1 overall, one could easily see that 2001 was a poor draft, as only two lottery picks have ever made an All Star team, Pau Gasol (#3) and Joe Johnson (#10). While Jordan could’ve picked Gasol, up to that point no European player had ever had much success in the league, as Dirk Nowtizki was still a young gun. Everyone else in the top 5 (Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and Jason Richardson) are regarded as overpaid and have never experienced much success in the league, Richardson coming the closest. So we give MJ a pass on that one. What about the next year? Well, MJ had the 11th and 17th picks in the draft. Of the players Mike had to choose from, only 9 are still in the NBA and 5 of those were picked in the second round. MJ happened to select one of the few still around, Jared Jeffries, with the 11th pick. While few would consider Jeffries lottery talent, he’s made a name for himself as a solid defender and likely will continue to play in the League for years to come. MJ also picked Juan Dixon, who had multiple successful seasons before heading to Europe this year. When Jordan arrived in Charlotte, he drafted Morrison, who is a bust (though partly due to injury) and Ryan Hollins. While Hollins is no world-beater, he is the lowest pick from that draft remaining. Jordan also signed Argentinian Walter Herrman, who played well in his short stay in Charlotte before being traded. In 2007, MJ traded his first pick to Golden State for Jason Richardson, who led the team in scoring with 21.8 points, a team record. Richardson later netted Diaw and Raja Bell, but we’ll get there in a minute, back to ’07. With the 22nd pick, Jordan selected Jared Dudley, who was also part of the Diaw/Richardson trade. Dudley is a superb bench player and will likely contend for Sixth man of the Year later in his career. Of those still on the board when Charlotte picked, likely only Aaron Brooks (who wouldn’t have fit on a team with Raymond Felton) has had more success to date. Now to 2008, where we see Jordan hire Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown (who drafted DJ Augustin) and trade for Diaw and Bell. While it was lampooned at the time, the trade for Diaw and Bell made the ‘Cats playoff contenders for the first time, and while they came up short, both had a part in this season’s playoff appearance. Diaw has fit in as the point forward, and Bell was traded for Stephen Jackson this season. Tyson Chandler was added for Emeka Okafor, and while that was also considered lopsided, it’s Chandler’s play that’s made the ‘Cats a solid defensive team in the paint. Tyrus Thomas was also added for merely a proctected first rounder and expiring contracts, and Theo Ratliff and Larry Hughes both came practically free of charge. While Jackson is likely the most responsible for the on-court improvement this year, one can see that the architect of the team isn’t as lazy and irresponsible as the mainstream media portrays him. Sure he’s had help from longtime friend Rod Higgins, but Jordan, just like McKeon, is a skilled manager of personnel, and knows how to make the trade or draft pick that helps the team in both the short run and the long run.
Looking forward, if McKeon’s career arc can be used as a guide, then Jordan will soon be reaching his goal of making the Finals. Hopefully, Trader Mike will also bring home that championship, just like Trader Jack.