Bobcats GM defends Michael Jordan

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- First, Michael Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats allowed starting point guard Raymond Felton to leave in free agency. Then they traded center Tyson Chandler for payroll relief.

On Friday, arena employees were scrambling to cover up all likenesses of forward Gerald Wallace, the only All-Star in franchise history, who was traded to Portland a day earlier for role players and draft picks.

And while Jordan's employees were defending the owner and insisting the six-time NBA champion isn't cheap, Jordan declined to attend a news conference announcing the latest jolt to Charlotte's roster in the past year.

"Of course Michael is willing to spend the money," general manager Rod Higgins said. "He's made that clear to all of us from the top down that he's going to spend the money. But you have to understand when is the good time to spend the money."

For the Bobcats, that appears to be down the road as they begin a rebuilding effort despite making the playoffs for the first time last season and sitting just 1½ games behind Indiana for the final postseason spot before Friday's game against Sacramento.

"We don't want to be in that seventh or eighth spot. We want to get to that championship level," Higgins said. "That's the plan."

Thursday's trade gave Charlotte two first-round draft picks, including New Orleans' choice this season provided it's not in the top seven. The Bobcats will get another protected first-round choice from Portland as soon as 2013, meaning both selections will likely be later in the first round.

Charlotte also got backup center Joel Przybilla, reserve forward Dante Cunningham and center Sean Marks, who will be released. All have expiring contracts and none of them come close in talent to the athletic Wallace, who had become the face of the 7-year-old franchise.

Numerous players at shootaround Friday said they were stunned with the news of the deal and another that sent backup center Nazr Mohammed to Oklahoma City for reserve forward D.J. White and guard Morris Peterson, who will be waived.

Guard D.J. Augustin called it "sad" and said Wallace and Mohammed "were like big brothers to me." Guard Stephen Jackson said he was as close to Wallace as he's been to any teammate in his career.

"This is something that was a shock to everybody on the team," Jackson said, "but at the end of the day we still have a job to do."

The 28-year-old Wallace meant a lot to a team thirsting for fans. The last original member of the franchise, Wallace went from a castoff in the expansion draft into an All-Star and member of the NBA All-Defensive team last season.

Now he's a casualty of a change in direction for Jordan, who bought the money-losing team outright last season and has been shedding payroll since.

Higgins insisted it's part of a bigger plan to make Charlotte a contender and an attractive place for free agents. But he declined to go into specifics or set a time frame.

"Down the road you'll see some of the benefits of this deal," Higgins said. "Our [salary] cap numbers going forward you can see the plusses there. We can trade and do some things in free agency. In terms of years, I couldn't sit here and say in 2014 we're going to be where we want to be. It's always evolving."

Higgins said the team's financial woes -- much of Jordan's $275 million price for the franchise was assuming debt and the club is still losing tens of millions annually -- was "not an overriding factor" in the team's recent cost-cutting moves.

"If we're not going to be a championship caliber team it's not fair to ask the owner to spend luxury tax-type money," Higgins said. "We're not there yet."

Jordan, though, remained silent. Despite attending shootaround that ended minutes before the news conference, he was nowhere to be found when Higgins climbed onto the podium.

"Why he's not here?" Higgins said, repeating a question. "He hires people like all of us to do these jobs."