The resignation of Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause today opened the possibility that Michael Jordan's former team might be interested in him for the top executive position when he ends his playing career with the Washington Wizards.
Jordan, who played 13 seasons for the Bulls and helped them win six NBA championships, has said for months that he plans on reassuming part ownership and his role as president of basketball operations with the Wizards after the season. He was unavailable to comment.
Jordan, 40, has a home in Chicago where his family resides year-round, and a statue of his likeness stands in front of United Center, the Bulls' home court. He is under no contractual obligation to the Wizards once the season ends.
At the least, Jordan has gained unexpected leverage in his negotiations to return to the Wizards' front office. A source close to Jordan said today that staying in Washington would be his first choice. But Jordan wants total control over personnel issues and, even though he has wide latitude, he has been frustrated by the franchise's deliberate approach to decision-making, according to league sources. There are some members of the organization and the league who believe the Wizards suffer from not having one voice. Jordan and Wizards executives Wes Unseld and Susan O'Malley all answer to owner Abe Pollin.
In Chicago, Jordan would be expected to join former teammate John Paxson, the team's radio analyst, in a revamped front office under team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Krause, 64, who helped shape the teams Jordan led to glory, was seen as the primary impediment to Jordan being involved with the Bulls after his January 1999 retirement. The two often were antagonists. In 1997, while accepting the championship trophy, Krause annoyed Jordan and his teammates for saying that "players don't win championships, organizations win championships." It was Jordan who gave Krause the nickname "Crumbs" for his disheveled appearance.
Those feelings played a role in Jordan becoming president of basketball operations for the Wizards in January 2000.
The Bulls made no mention of Krause's possible successor. Chicago wants to hire a GM within the next month, Reinsdorf said in a statement.
Until the season ends, no team, including the Wizards, can discuss a post-career position with Jordan. The expansion Charlotte franchise, owned by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, also might be interested in talking with Jordan, NBA sources have said.
The five-year contract Jordan signed in 2000 to become the team's top basketball executive was voided once he decided to play before the 2001-02 season.
At the conclusion of the season, Jordan, who is averaging 19 points a game, plans to meet with Pollin about his future with the organization. Pollin was unavailable to comment today.
With Jordan on the court the past two seasons, Washington has sold out every home game. But Pollin, according to sources, is very disappointed that the team, put together for the most part by Jordan, is 35-41 and might not make the playoffs for a second straight season.
Jordan and Unseld helped orchestrate trades and contract buyouts that unloaded high-salaried players Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland and Lorenzo Williams.
But some of the team's other recent moves have not worked as well: the Wizards ignored league-wide warnings and signed Larry Hughes, more of a shooting guard, to play point guard. Hughes lost the starting job because of ineffectiveness. The six-player deal that brought swingman Jerry Stackhouse from Detroit did not produce the dynamic offensive pairing with Jordan that was expected and has led to complaints by Stackhouse about his role. And Brendan Haywood has not emerged as a dominant center as Jordan hoped.
Jordan also was instrumental in hiring Coach Doug Collins, who admitted last season to having poorly managed overall No. 1 pick Kwame Brown. Brown has been a disappointment and has complained about his treatment by coaches.
Before bringing in Collins, Jordan hired Leonard Hamilton from the University of Miami and fired him after a franchise-worst 19-victory season.
Besides talking with Pollin, Jordan will consider whether to regain the 5 to 10 percent share of ownership in Washington Sports and Entertainment he held for 11/2 years as a member of Lincoln Holdings, the Ted Leonsis-led group that owns the Washington Capitals and has minority interest in the Wizards and MCI Center.
In accordance with NBA rules, Jordan had to divest all ownership and relinquish his front-office post in order to play.
Krause issued a statement saying he was resigning for health reasons.
"The rigors and stress of the job have caused me some minor physical problems in the past few years," he said. "Those problems can be eliminated if I lessen my load for a while and concentrate on overcoming them."
Krause, twice the NBA executive of the year, inherited Jordan but made a draft-day trade for Scottie Pippen and signed Toni Kukoc as the Bulls won six titles from 1991 to '98 and won an NBA-record 72 games in 1995-96. However, the Bulls (27-50) have endured five consecutive losing seasons.