Simply put, Curtis Polk is Michael Jordan’s watchdog.
Since 2001 Polk has managed Jordan’s financial and business affairs. Sometimes that means working with Nike or Gatorade on Jordan’s endorsement deals. Increasingly, it means overseeing Jordan’s majority ownership of the Charlotte Hornets.
Polk’s title with the Hornets is vice-chairman. That means, among other duties, he can vote on the NBA’s Board of Governors in Jordan’s absence. Day-to-day it means reviewing the balance between the business side of the Hornets and the basketball operation.
Polk met this week with Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell to discuss the Hornets’ season and upcoming off-season:
Q. You’ve been an advocate for better long-range planning with this franchise. How do the think that is going?
It’s getting easier to some extent, but also tougher because with the change in the (salary) cap because of the new TV deal, your long-range planning is going to have a lot more competitors than you once had (when you were) just managing the cap growing marginally year-to-year.
We have to look at it and say everybody is going to be in the same situation, so the marketplace for free agents could be much more difficult than we perceived it to be with this approach several years ago.
Q. What has to happen this summer for the Hornets to improve?
There needs to be a continuing priority on developing the young guys we have. MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) has shown tremendous growth and progress in making himself more rounded. At some point we have to make a decision on a longer-term commitment with him coming off his rookie(-scale) deal next year. Cody (Zeller) I think again has made some big improvements. Those guys need to continue to develop and everyone from the front office to the coaching staff would tell you the big development work needs to happen in the summer.
Adding a player or two if we’re going to play the same way offensively and defensively. Being able to space the floor with shooting, we obviously need players who can help create that. And the veterans need to come into training camp in as good condition as they ever have. It’s important to make sure the staff in the summer goes to visit them or they’re in Charlotte as much as possible. We need to stay on top of that situation.
Q. What is your perception of Lance Stephenson’s situation?
I think first off Lance has been a great person to add to the team. I think the other players like him fine as far as locker room and whatnot. On the court his skill set and the way our offense runs has not been complementary toward each other. He is going to have to work this summer with the staff. He’s got the skills to change his game a little bit and there are times when maybe we have to adjust how we’re playing to highlight his skills a little bit. It’s a work-in-progress.
Q. Obviously the injuries (164 player-games lost) were a factor in your record, but is there anything you learned from this season that you have to reflect upon and change?
I think we have to maintain flexibility – and I don’t just mean roster and salary cap. We have to be able to adjust to our personnel and who is playing well and who is not injured. At times recognize if Al Jefferson is out and our low-post game therefore isn’t effective, how can we use players who are playing to consistently perform at the offensive end? I think we were inconsistent in our ability to generate offense. We made a lot of changes with five (new) guys, so the beginning of the season was more about getting used to each other. We developed that consistency at the defensive end.
We have to develop third weapons (behind Jefferson and Kemba Walker). There were games where we scored 100 points and other games where we were down in the 60s. Crazy.
Q. The Hornets made a financial commitment to Kemba (a four-year, $48 million contract) long before you had to in a way that was unprecedented for this franchise. What was the reasoning on doing that?
Well, we all think that Kemba is a fantastic person with that competitive fire you don’t see every day when you are meeting players coming out of college for the NBA. That drive, that big heart and wanting to win, particularly from our chairman, Michael Jordan, that’s a skill he looks for. And you don’t see it in a lot of players
We loved Kemba when we drafted him. He’s shown he’s not afraid to take the big shot. He wants to win and is a great teammate to have. We felt he is the guy we wanted to make sure is there long term.