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.

Joel Embiid out with left knee soreness for Game 3 vs. Nets

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The Philadelphia 76ers will be without Joel Embiid on Thursday night as they take on the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of their first round series.

Embiid is battling left knee soreness and although he had a statistically-important performance as the Sixers took Game 2, it was obvious he was in some kind of reduced state of ability.

Veteran center Greg Monroe will start in Embiid’s place, but it will be hard for the Sixers to match Embiid’s production. The Cameroonian star is Philadelphia’s best player, and the 76ers are a hot and cold team.

Not having Embiid on the floor will seriously alter how they respond to the spunky Nets, who already took Game 1 from the higher-seeded Sixers.

The fact that Embiid needs to rest is also drawing some ire from folks on social media. The question is why Embiid did not rest earlier in the series — or even the end of the regular season when he was in and out of the lineup — and prepare for the coming playoff run?

However things go on Thursday, folks around the league will have their eyes glued to the injury report to see updates on Embiid’s status.

Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson undergoes thoracic outlet decompression surgery

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Kyle Anderson was playing a solid role off the bench for the Grizzlies this season, 8 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, serving as a secondary ball handler and shot creator. Slo-mo was doing his thing.

However, by the end of January, the pain radiating from his shoulder — something he now says he had been playing through for a couple of years — got to be too much. He never played another game after Jan. 30.

Thursday he had thoracic outlet decompression surgery to relieve the problem. Anderson is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go next training camp.

For comparison, this is the same surgery the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had.

Anderson is on a very reasonable contract, three years and $28 million remaining. He can be part of what is going to be built in Memphis going forward, but if they are tearing down and rebuilding — meaning a summer trade of Mike Conley — he could bring back assets in a trade.

Either way, he should be healthy and ready to go next summer.

Jerry West on NBA draft: ‘I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson’

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A rumor started buzzing around NBA Twitter last week, a second-hand report that NBA legend and Clippers’ consultant Jerry West was praising Murray State guard Ja Morant, saying he would take him in front of the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.

The source of that rumor: comedian Jeff Garlin, saying it on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jerry West himself went on the Dan Patrick show Thursday and shot that down saying “it Would Be Like Passing Jordan in the draft.”

Two players were picked in front Jordan in the 1984 Draft. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon, and while Jordan went on to be Jordan nobody can fault the Rockets for how this picked turned out — two titles and a Hall of Fame big man in your organization is an amazing draft.

The one everyone talks about was Portland at No. 2, when executive Stu Inman and coach Jack Ramsey decided they were set on the wing in Clyde Drexler and needed a big man, so they selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. Bowie might have had an excellent NBA career if injuries had not plagued him, but he was no Jordan. It’s the ultimate NBA cautionary tale — draft the best player on the board, not according to need.

Williamson is projected by teams as the best player on the board. By far. Even the Morant fans have him a clear second. Plus, Williamson comes in hugely popular and a brand unto himself — he will sell tickets and sponsorships. Not drafting him would be a stupid business decision, not to mention a basketball one.

Whoever lands second in next month’s draft lottery will do well with Morant. Whoever is third will likely get R.J. Barrett out of Duke and… let’s just say that’s where it gets interesting.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech declares for NBA draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).