Lockout or no, Hornets need to sell season tickets


The New Orleans Hornets have a goal — sell 10,000 season seats.

It’s at the heart of a plan to bolster the bottom line of the franchise and make it more attractive to a local buyer. It also kicks in provisions of the lease that make it hard to move the team out of town.

In other words — they need to do it if they are serious about keeping the Hornets in New Orleans.

The challenge: You try selling season tickets to a sport where there may not be a next season. You try selling during a lockout.

The Times-Picayune has a story on how the Hornets are working at it.

Right now, the Hornets are 1,500 shy of the stated goal of 10,000. (Hornets president Hugh) Weber and (Hornets chairman Jac) Sperling explain to prospective buyers how that number will make moot the team’s attendance benchmarks in the current lease with the state, increase sellouts at the Arena and how close the Hornets are to be leading the league in new ticket sales….

Sperling said the fans with whom he has spoken since the lockout commenced, three weeks into the 100-events-in-100-days campaign, haven’t seemed overly inquisitive about lockout issues, even though the Hornets cannot speak about CBA negotiations under threat of a $1 million fine….

“The idea is this is about New Orleans, the New Orleans Hornets, and people understand it,” Sperling said. “They ask questions, but in general, people understand the deal. This is about the Hornets in New Orleans. This was our plan. That’s what the purpose is. Our fans understand. We’re trying to achieve our goal. And they want to be part of it.”

Most teams don’t sell a lot of season tickets this time of year anyway (unless they scored big in free agency — the Heat phones were ringing off the hook this time last summer). But the Hornets are working it and they are making the right argument — this is about keeping a team in New Orleans. Frame the argument as civic pride, not the lockout or Chris Paul possibly leaving (even if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could make life a lot better for smaller market clubs like the Hornets and make it easier to keep Chris Paul).

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.