Last week David Stern said he was close to having a buyer for the New Orleans Hornets — and getting a new lease with the state of Louisiana for the New Orleans Area — that would keep the team in the Crescent City.
Those buyers are from Los Angeles not New Orleans based but they seem to have the money and experience, according to a report in the Times-Picayune.
A group led by Los Angeles-area businessman Raj Bhathal, who founded one of the country’s leading swimwear manufacturing companies, has emerged as a top candidate to purchase the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA, sources said Thursday. The group includes Larry J. Benson, brother of Saints owner Tom Benson and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy….
Former NBA Coach Mike Dunleavy has been the California group’s front man in the initial negotiations, and sources said Thursday the L.A.-based consortium has been given exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase. Dunleavy appeared courtside at a Hornets game earlier this season. Dunleavy’s wife, Emily, is a native New Orleanian.
If your first thought is they are buying the team to move it, they couldn’t unless the Louisiana legislature approves a new lease deal with an early out clause. Which seems a pretty stupid thing for them to do. It all comes down to how that lease would be structured.
Dunleavy, who was coach and GM of the Clippers most recently, wanted to move into more of a front office role and tried to make that happen with the Clippers (helping push Elgin Baylor out the door).
There is a second group led by Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest waiting in the wings. Chouest had been in negotiations with former Hornets owner George Shinn to buy the team, when those talks broke down Shinn sold the team to the league to get out from under it.
I don’t know how good an ownership group this would be, or if Mike Dunleavy is really the perfect guy for the job. But it’s a better option than the league continuing to own the team.
In a lead up to All-Star Weekend, NBA Commissioner David Stern sat down with David Aldridge of TNT/NBA.com for an interview, one which covered everything from the level of play this season to Jeremy Lin. Because all NBA conversations must now by law include Jeremy Lin.
But maybe the most interesting quote was when Stern was asked about progress on the sale of the Hornets. (Transcription via At The Hive)
“We’re moving on dual tracks on a buyer, and with the state’s contribution under a new lease that will likely be complete, both of those, by March 1 or on or about March 1. The deal itself can’t close until the legislature confirms the role of the state, and the legislature convenes in March.”
I’m taking this with a few grains of salt — if you wanted to put pressure on a legislature to pass a more favorable lease during a down economy, saying they are holding up a sale of the team is a good way to do it. It’s the best card Stern could play here.
That said, Stern wouldn’t outright lie here and we hope this is true.
Stern said there was a one candidate “in the lead” and a second basically waiting in the wings to buy and take over the franchise, keeping it in the Crescent City. No names were revealed.
We’ll see how fast this actually happens (and what Stern says at his general press conference All-Star weekend) but it seems like there is a path to a new owner. Which is good. The league’s management of the Hornets has been at best and uncomfortable mess, and if you ask Mark Cuban much worse.
General Manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams deserve someone who will chart a direction for the franchise and give them a real chance to show what they can do.
Great news Hornets fans: Not only do you have to worry about losing your franchise player in Chris Paul in a couple of years — not to mention your entire franchise to some new, Clay Bennettesque out-of-town owner — you can worry about losing David West as well.
Sorry guys. The first round of Zantac is on us.
West can opt out of the final year of his deal for next season (set to pay him $7.5 million) and he plans to, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.
New Orleans general manager Dell Demps has discussed the framework of a multiyear deal with West’s agents at Octagon, but the Hornets’ hopes of getting him signed prior to the Feb. 24 trade deadline is “not likely at all,” one source close to the talks told Yahoo! Sports…
“It’s hard to see an extension happening here,” one source said.
Publicly, everyone is playing nice. This is what West told the Times-Picayune Monday night after he drained a game winner for the Hornets.
“I’ve been saying the same thing: I’m just going to wait until the end of the year, and I want to make the best decision I can make in terms of my future,” West said. “I’ve had an opportunity to talk with Dell. We have an understanding in terms of what’s out there, but I’m just going to play ball right now.”
What does that mean? Probably exactly that, this is an issue that will be on the table next summer. Who knows how the NBA’s ownership of the team (very likely through this summer) will impact this. It’s just another things for Hornets fans to worry about.
There has been a real push since the NBA took control of the New Orleans Hornets to boost attendance — the reason being to reach a benchmark, otherwise a new owner of the team (once they find one) could easily move the team out of New Orleans (well, still would have had to pay $10 million but that is nothing when you pay hundreds of millions for a franchise).
The Hornets hit that benchmark, according to the Times-Picayune. Gov. Bobby Jindal will be at the game tonight to make the announcement. That means we will likely see the Hornets in New Orleans until 2014 when this lease is up. That’s step one in keeping the team put.
But there remains one little issue to keeping the Hornets in the Big Easy — finding an owner. Okay, that’s not such a little issue.
But other than local attorney Morris Bart and a few others willing to buy a minority stake, no one else from the metro area has publicly expressed a desire to purchase a controlling interest in the Hornets.
“I think the league has to be convinced there is a local buyer out there,’’ said Bill Sutton, a former consultant for the NBA who is the associate director and a professor at the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sports Business Management program. “You have to attract an owner that can make a go of it financially.’’
That’s what it ultimately will come down to if the Hornets are to stay near the good gumbo — an owner who wants to keep them there and not move them to Kansas City or wherever. Unless the NBA’s hand-picked guy Jac Sperling can find someone, attendance benchmarks and building up a season ticket base and all the rest of it will be moot.
Larry Ellison — founder of Oracle and one of the richest men walking the planet — lost out on his bid to buy the Golden State Warriors last year. (Actually, his bid might have won but it was submitted after the deadline.)
He still wants an NBA team and recently tried to buy the New Orleans Hornets, he told the San Jose Mercury News (via CBS Facts & Rumors):
“I did offer $350 million” for the New Orleans Hornets, Ellison told reporters, adding that he was “slightly outbid” by the National Basketball Association when the league bought the bankrupt team last month from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest.
It had been assumed that the league bought the team because nobody else stepped forward with a legitimate offer.
Someone did — Ellison. But not the right someone. He likely would have moved the team out of New Orleans to San Jose, a rumor that Forbes had published.
The league wants to make an effort — or at least appear to make an effort — to keep the team in New Orleans. Selling to Ellison would have come off as giving up on the city and that would have been bad PR.
It would not be a shock if whoever buys the Hornets from the league decides move the team to Kansas City or some other market. Even San Jose. But for now it’s about giving New Orleans a chance, and making sure everyone sees how hard you are trying to keep the team there. Not that there won’t still be an outcry if/when the team moves, but at least the league can say it did its best before screwing another fan base.