OAKLAND – They’re back to being the anchored Hornets, out of relocation limbo in New Orleans until further notice after drawing enough fans by a Jan. 31 deadline to avoid triggering an option that would have allowed the owners to break the arena lease and move after the season.
This passes for stability in their world. Yet, the NBA is still the caretaker owner until a permanent buyer can be found. No one can say for sure whether the Big Easy is still an interim home for the franchise that started in Charlotte. And, finally, the lockout is bearing down. Try getting customers excited to buy season tickets if it’s impossible to tell them when (if?) the season is going to start.
The other perspective: While reaching the statistical benchmark to keep the lease in place was an important victory for civic and government leaders who rallied locals for increased fan support, the Hornets were still No. 24 in the league in attendance entering Wednesday. Only the Hawks, Pacers, Grizzlies, Nets, 76ers and Kings had a worse showing at the turnstiles than the 14,487 in New Orleans.
The worst part? This is a successful season, with the Hornets at 31-16, putting them on pace for 54 victories and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. And they’re on 10-game win streak after a 112-103 win over the Warriors on Wednesday night. If New Orleans slides, as it did after an 11-1 start, attendance could take another hit. On the other hand, if the standings continue to deliver good news, fans could repeat the 2008 backing that was one of the franchise’s highlights.
“It wasn’t anything we thought about,” coach Monty Williams said of the attendance uncertainty that ended Monday with the final home game before the deadline. “We were so focused on playing the kind of basketball that we want to play, I don’t think any of the players were thinking about that. But once we passed that, it was certainly something that we were excited that it was over with. We want to stay in New Orleans, and that’s been the prevailing thought of our team the whole season. Benchmarks and all that stuff, I just don’t think guys think about that.”
At least not a lot.
“To be honest with you, it might have come up a little bit, but not too heavily,” center Emeka Okafor said at the first game since the attendance plateau was reached. “We all want to stay in New Orleans. We love playing there. As far as the benchmark, we’re doing what we can do — go out there and play hard, make the fans proud. We’re glad that it did pass.”