By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Rod Higgins climbed onto the podium for his first pre-draft news conference since becoming general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats wearing a golf shirt with a Michael Jordan Nike jumpman logo.
Higgins isn’t alone in his affinity for the NBA great.
Jordan, who became a part-owner in the Bobcats last year, has loaded up the front office with longtime friends, confidants and ex-teammates. He’ll lean on his loyal crew Thursday, a night that will shape the future of the struggling franchise.
Jordan will oversee his second draft in Charlotte. He has the final say on all basketball moves and will decide whether to keep the eighth and 22nd picks, or trade one or both selections for veteran players.
“Our responsibility is to go to Michael and say, ‘Here’s the due diligence that we’ve done. Here’s what we recommend,’” vice president of basketball operations Bernie Bickerstaff said.
Bickerstaff, who stepped down as coach and general manager after the season, is Jordan’s top aide. Higgins was assistant GM in Washington when Jordan ran the Wizards, and he was hired away from Golden State last month.
Buzz Peterson, Jordan’s former college roommate, became director of player personnel, and new coach Sam Vincent played with Jordan in Chicago.
Bickerstaff said Jordan _ who has avoided the local media _ hasn’t attended all the pre-draft workouts but is putting in the hours.
“You know what the most amazing thing about this guy is, his retention ability, his ability to take information, absorb it and retain it,” Bickerstaff said. “So he’s completely involved. It’s not laissez-faire.”
Bickerstaff has been fielding numerous trade offers from teams looking to move up in the draft, or unload high-salary players because of the Bobcats’ wealth of salary cap space. If the Bobcats keep the eighth pick, they could choose among a trio of forwards: Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah of Florida, and Al Thornton of Florida State.
Georgetown’s Jeff Green declined to work out for the Bobcats, although Bickerstaff said that wouldn’t prevent them from taking him.
If the Bobcats keep the 22nd pick, they could take a point guard to back up Raymond Felton, or a shooting guard to help the team get bigger in the backcourt.
But Vincent, in his first head coaching job, said Wednesday he was open to a trade.
“If they make the decision that we can move a couple of those picks to get a veteran player that’s going to come in and really help the team, I think that would be great,” Vincent said, “versus bringing in a rookie that’s got to get up to speed, learn the league.”—can we stream this quote together?
Several teams have talked openly about moving up in the draft, with Phoenix being the loudest. But the Bobcats would likely insist on getting a quality player. Charlotte, which finished its third season 33-49, has never had a go-to scorer or a low-post scoring threat.
“We’re trying to get some kind of immediate impact,” Bickerstaff said.
The sense of urgency likely comes from Charlotte’s apathy toward the Bobcats. Still stung over the Hornets’ move to New Orleans five years ago, the team has struggled to sell tickets and lure advertisers.
Jordan’s first move with the Bobcats was drafting Adam Morrison No. 3 overall last year _ and it didn’t create a wave of fan interest. Morrison also struggled to hit shots as a rookie.
This draft, and whether the Bobcats can re-sign top scorer and fan favorite Gerald Wallace, will go a long way in determining if the Bobcats can win over fans and make the playoffs next season _ Vincent’s stated goal the day he was hired.
“We’re going to go through the process of speaking to teams, trade opportunities, move up, move down, all the way up to the final hour when we have to make that selection,” Vincent said.
Added Higgins: “We all are trying to put this team in a position to continue the improvement that Bernie has established. We all feel good about our young talent, Michael included.”
Notes:@ The Bobcats worked out four players Wednesday: D.J. Strawberry of Maryland, De’Angelo Alexander of Charlotte, Nate Carter of Oklahoma and Jeremy Hunt of Memphis. … Strawberry, projected to be a second round pick, said he’s worked out for at least 13 teams and hasn’t been home since he left for the pre-draft camp in Orlando a month ago. … The Bobcats don’t have a second round pick.