CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was Bobcats owner Michael Jordan who handed down the edict.
After watching Kemba Walker lead Connecticut to the national championship last spring, Jordan told his front office under no uncertain terms they were to draft him if he fell to the ninth spot.
And so they did.
Walker and fellow Bobcats rookie Bismack Biyombo, who was selected two picks ahead of Walker at No. 7, are part of a major youth movement in Charlotte.
The Bobcats, a fringe playoff team for last the few years, figured the only way to break into the upper echelon of the conference's top teams was to reload.
That meant taking one step back to go two steps ahead.
The Bobcats, who were 34-48 last season, traded away their best two scorers from last season in Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and also let center Kwame Brown walk in free agency. They've signed a few mid-level players in free agency and traded for seldom-used center Byron Mullens, but nothing that has sent anything more than mild ripples around the league.
That's by design.
The Bobcats' plan is get their young players — not only rookies Walker and Biyombo, but also starting guards Gerald Henderson and D.J. Augustin — more playing time and experience this year before venturing much deeper into free agency next offseason when they have more salary cap space.
Right now it's about building a team around players like Henderson, Augustin, forward Tyrus Thomas and Walker, who coach Paul Silas said will be "awesome."
"Mike looked at Kemba and saw himself," Silas said of Jordan's decision to go after Walker. "Mike said, 'This guy has it.' He said if he can lead that club (Connecticut) to the championship then he has what I have — and that's the determination to do it."
Walker said he's humbled that he was hand-picked by Jordan.
And he thinks he knows why.
"I'm very competitive in whatever I do. I don't like to lose," Walker said. "And growing up and watching Michael Jordan play I know he didn't like to lose. That's the same kind of mentality, that whatever-it-takes mentality."
Now it will be interesting to see how the Bobcats use Walker, particularly when they already have a maturing point guard in Augustin who flourished in his second year in the league under Silas. Silas has said there will be times when he'll use both 6-foot-1 Walker and 6-foot Augustin on the floor at the same time, meaning the Bobcats will be taking small ball to the extreme.
"I knew when we drafted Kemba that D.J. was going to pick it up," Silas said. "And he has. So it's a battle out there every day between them. I'm loving it."
Silas had planned to be an up-tempo team anyway, but that philosophy was accelerated when the team lost Brown in free agency leaving them without only one true big man in Gana Diop. But Diop is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, so Boris Diaw will start in the middle for the Bobcats which could pose problems on the boards.
Offensively, the Bobcats will rely heavily on Corey Maggete, who was acquired in the trade for Jackson.
Silas is expecting 20 points a night from Maggette, who has quickly taken to his role as the team's veteran leader.
Silas said he loves the enthusiasm and the energy his young players came to training camp with, knowing that's a necessity with the roster he's been given.
"That's what you need are guys who are going to go at it all out because let's face it, we're not the most talented team in the world right now," Silas said. "We have certain aspects of our team that we can really accelerate and that's what we have to do."