Okay, so a lot’s happened in the last 24 hours (most of which actually happened last week, but we’ll get to that) with the ownership situation in New Orleans. The world is much different than it was two days ago. In short, the NBA is closing in on the purchase of the New Orleans Hornets by the league itself.
Apparently, in a Sports Illustrated story by Ian Thomsen last week, a reference was made to league considering purchasing the Hornets in an effort to stabilize the ownership situation with George Shinn wanting out-out-out and negotiations with Gary Chouest stalling. This slipped by most of us because, really, who reads things you have to hold anymore, besides your grandmother? (All kidding aside, the fact that this slipped by is pretty staggering).
Marc Stein of ESPN followed up last night and reported that the league is indeed in consideration of acquiring the Hornets in a situation similar to that of what MLB did with the Expos. Immediately following that, the Times Picayune reported that Gary Chouest was dropping out of negotiations for majority ownership. This morning, John Reid at that established publication reports that Chouest was concerned about the impending work stoppage as well as his ability to devote the necessary time to the franchise.
(Pant, pant. Okay, here we go again.)
This morning, NBA FanHouse’s Sam Amick reports that not only is the league considering it, they are well on their way towards moving to acquire the team, and have even selected personnel to run the team in the interim while it works to find stable ownership. The league obviously is not looking to hold the team long-term, but is looking to find ownership which will keep the team in New Orleans and avoid a very dicey PR situation with the second team moving in three years and less than a half decade after Katrina and all its horror.
And all of this is after it was revealed that the team would have an opt-out from its lease if attendance measures didn’t dramatically recover which would drop the Hornets penalties for bolting New Orleans to a mere $10 million.
The league exploring this drastic of a solution leads to the question of whether they’re concerned that current majority owner George Shinn, desperate to dump his ownership, might sell the team to someone who may not be committed to keeping the team in the Crescent City. Alternatively, it may simply be a sign of the times that there’s not another viable option the league is willing to wait on. This will be the fourth team in the past year to change ownership, which is, you know, kind of a lot.
The league also will want to resolve the situation quickly, since having control of the ownership is A. a drain on resources and B. is likely to have complications with the CBA negotiations coming this summer, particularly with the Hornets being a small-market team which is a major issue in negotiations. It’s also a very controlling move by the league, which has not been hands-on with ownership situations (as opposed to players issues which they have been very hands-on with). The league did not intercede with the Dolan-Thomas disaster in New York, nor with the Cohan issues in Golden State. We’re looking at a situation without precedent in basketball, and one which could have far-reaching implications for how how the league handles such matters in the future, the CBA negotiations, and most importantly, the future of professional basketball in New Orleans.
Commissioner David Stern already came under enough fire for his involvement with the Clay-Bennett-backed move of the Sonics to OKC where he was seen as more of a willing accomplice than an outright actor. But if the league is unable to find a local ownership group to satisfy the league’s requirements and a stronger offer is brought from a group in a prospective NBA city (like Kansas City, Anaheim, Las Vegas, or Seattle), it could be seen as a deliberate effort by the league to get out of what some consider to be an impossible market in New Orleans, despite what Hornets president Hugh Weber says is a situation that can work. Take a second and realize that should the NBA relocate the Hornets to Seattle it would be viewed as a good thing by many of the big-market-leaning press and a rectification of past sins by the league in moving the Sonics to begin with. And it would likely mean the outright dissolution of the Hornets franchise itself (as a reversion back to the Sonics would be nearly a lock).
This is all very unlikely, as the league’s first and foremost effort will be to find local ownership committed to New Orleans. But with an arena many consider to be far below NBA standards, in a market far below what most consider NBA standards, and with a fanbase showing a lack of support far below NBA standards, this could drag on, locking the NBA in a quagmire of their own.
This is a whole new ballgame.