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Tom Benson, the owner who saved the NBA in New Orleans, dies of the flu at age 90

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Tom Benson, the man who saved the NBA in New Orleans, has passed away from the flu at the age of 90.

Benson had been hospitalized for a month as the flu evolved into pneumonia. While a few weeks back things reportedly had improved, that did not last.

“The NBA family mourns the loss of New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson,” NBA Commisioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “Big-hearted and gracious, Tom topped off a distinguished business and sports career by acquiring the Pelicans in 2012.  During his tenure, he hosted two highly-successful All-Star Games, rebranded the franchise and installed a first-class organization.  He was a dear friend to me and so many others in the sports world, and the loss of his authentic and unique presence will leave an enormous void.  We send our heartfelt condolences to Gayle, their family, the Pelicans and Saints, and his countless friends.”

Back in 2011, George Shinn (the owner who almost ruined the NBA in Charlotte before Michael Jordan saved that effort) was walking away from the New Orleans Hornets (he had moved the Charlotte team to the Big Easy) and sold the team to the league (that was at the time of the lockout and when Chris Paul was nearly traded to the Lakers). The NBA had plenty of potential new owners lined up ready to move the franchise to another city, but first looked for an owner who would keep the team in New Orleans.

Benson, who had owned the NFL’s Saints since 1985, stepped up and took control of the team. He eventually had it renamed the Pelicans — something local and more meaningful to the region (and allowing the Hornet name to go back to Charlotte, where it has local significance).

Control of the Pelicans and Saints now passes to Benson’s wife, Gayle. Although that was not without controversy — when Benson overhauled his estate plan to give Gayle control upon his passing, Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and previous handpicked successor, sued (Rita had been completely cut out of the family businesses, not just the sports franchises). The lawsuit said Tom Benson was incompetent to make his own decisions, that he was being manipulated by Gayle, and basically called Gayle a gold digger (in fancy legal terminology). A judge ruled in favor of Tom and his plan to turn the team over to Gayle.

Thomas Milton Benson, Jr. was born on July 12, 1927, in New Orleans and was raised in the 7th Ward neighborhood of that city, eventually going on to Loyola University New Orleans to study business and accounting. He served in the Navy during World War II before returning to the city and the university to finish his degree. In 1948, he started work at the Cathey Chevrolet Co. in New Orleans and by 1962, at age 35, he took full control of the company and established a multi-dealership organization with outlets throughout the New Orleans area and South Texas. His financial empire expanded from there to include banking.

In 1985, Mr. Benson purchased the New Orleans Saints, keeping that team in the city when owners were lined up to move it elsewhere. While fans would not exactly call him a model NFL owner — Benson would threaten to move the team when he didn’t get what he wanted from the city — he kept the team in New Orleans under his ownership did go on to win Super Bowl XLIV in 2009.

Kelly Oubre: Raptors’ Delon Wright ‘doesn’t play well anywhere else, you know, other than at home’

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Delon Wright made some big plays down the stretch to help the Raptors to a Game 5 win over the Wizards last night. With Toronto up 3-2 in the first-round series and the home team winning the first five games, Game 6 is tomorrow in Washington.

Oubre, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“The next game is a different story. We’re back at home. Just like Delon doesn’t play well anywhere else, you know, other than at home,” Oubre said, sharing inspiration coupled with a touch of an insult. “You can kind of chalk it up as the same story.”

Wright decided not to escalate the conflict when reporters asked him about it.

Wright has been much better in Toronto than Washington in this series. His average game score is 14.7 at home and 5.7 on the road.

But that’s such a small sample. During the regular season, there wasn’t nearly such a big split between Wright’s average game score at home (8.4) and on the road (6.9).

For what it’s worth, Oubre has a somewhat similar home-road average-game-score split, both in this series (9.4 at home, 6.3 on the road) and during the regular season (8.1 at home, 7.5 on the road). Which Oubre basically acknowledged in his diss of Wright/self-own.

This is pretty typical Oubre – hyper-competitive verging on out of control. It’s fun regardless.

Let’s just say he’s right, though, and the Wizards win Game 6. Game 7 would be Sunday in Toronto, where, by Oubre’s own admission, Wright plays well and the Raptors are undefeated in the postseason. Then what?

Rumor: Bulls expected to wait until 2019 for free-agency splash

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The Bulls tanked so hard this year, the NBA warned them to cut it out. It was a rare instance of the league responding to actual tanking measures rather than just talk of preferring to lose.

Bulls executive John Paxson, via Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We did this year what we felt was in the longterm best interests of the Bulls,” Paxson said. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again; it goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in; but it’s the way the system is set up.”

Chicago could try to turn around quickly. The Bulls project to have about $25 million in cap space this summer – enough to land a good player or two.

Mark Schanowski of NBC Sports Chicago:

The assumption in league circles is the Bulls will wait until 2019 to make their big move when players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving could be on the market, and might consider signing with the Bulls after watching another year of development from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

This is the wise course. It’s unlikely Chicago can lure anyone good enough to lift such a young core quickly. The Bulls are better off remaining patient – and bad, which will net another high draft pick as Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn develop.

This is also probably the course thrust upon Chicago. Even if they wanted to, the Bulls probably can’t land a premier free agent this summer. Star free agents can see the same problems with Chicago trying for a quick fix and will likely avoid the situation.

There’d be no harm in trying for top free agents like LeBron James or even Paul George. But the Bulls will probably be relegated to 2019 if they want to sign someone meaningful. Better they realize that than make a desperate attempt for relevance this year.

Rich Cho on Trail Blazers getting swept: ‘Being a previous Portland GM, that didn’t disappoint me’

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In 2011, the Trail Blazers surprisingly fired Rich Cho after only season as general manager.

Cho – since hired and fired by the Hornets – seems to be holding a grudge.

John Canzano of The Oregonian:

That’s a sentiment many people hold toward their former employer. Few say so publicly. That Cho did indicates just how strongly he feels.

Under owner Paul Allen, the Trail Blazers have run through numerous executives. It’s part of the culture in Portland, and it leaves a lot of outgoing people bitter.

Current general manager Neil Olshey ought to be mindful of that.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

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Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.