California investors (and Mike Dunleavy Sr.) frontrunners to buy Hornets

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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.